A HISTORY OF ZERO TOLERANCE IN SCHOOLS

The tough-on-crime policies of the 1990s have gotten a lot of attention this election season, largely because of Bill Clinton’s 1994 Crime Bill which many now argue was a contributing factor in today’s mass incarceration crisis. However, less focus has been placed on how those policies were put into practice into schools. A video by Retro Report shows how zero tolerance policies first began in schools in the 1980s, and how that helped created the school-to-prison pipeline that exists today.

We know now that harsh discipline practices have lead to the criminalization of youth, particular young men of color. In recent years, in an attempt to correct these policies, suspensions and other harsh disciplinary practices have decreased. Still, 2.8 million K-12 students a year receive at least one out-of-school suspension and black students are almost four times more likely than white students to be disciplined.

The Department of Education recently released a #RethinkDiscipline campaign to raise awareness about how harsh discipline practices affect students, and the Obama administration has issued a series of best practices for school resource officers to decrease on-campus arrests. How else can we undo the lasting effects of zero tolerance and tough-on-crime policies of the ‘80s and ‘90s?

THE ON-GOING PRISON STRIKE

On September 9, the forty-fifth anniversary of the Attica prison uprising, inmates across the country went on strike to protest their working conditions. Specific demands vary from prison to prison, but as a whole the protests are focused on the practice of forcing inmates to work and then paying them as little as a few cents an hour – if at all.

It’s not a stretch to call this modern-day slavery since it is made possible by a little known clause in the 13th Amendment that says the abolition of slavery does not apply in cases where it is used “as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted.” Basically: if you’ve been found guilty of any crime in this country, you can be enslaved.

Details about the protests are hard to come by, but organizers estimate nearly 25,000 inmates in 12 states have been involved, participating in work stoppages, marches, and hunger strikes. If those numbers are even somewhat accurate, that would make this the largest prison strike in American history – and one that is still going on. And yet, there has been almost no reporting on the protest by any major newspapers or news channels.

IS THE ‘FERGUSON EFFECT’ REAL?

Two articles in The New York Times this past week looked at the so-called ‘Ferguson Effect,’ an idea coined in 2014 and popularized by Manhattan Institute scholar Heather Mac Donald in 2015. The ‘Ferguson Effect’ is the theory that police are less likely to enforce the law because anti-police protests make them worried they will be targeted for violence or that their actions will be overly scrutinized. With cops reluctant to do their jobs, crime, especially gun violence and homicide, goes up. This idea has been used to explain rising crime rates in cities like Baltimore and Chicago, but many academics and law enforcement officials

In the Sunday Times, Neil Gross looks at two studies that suggest it could be real. One found that arrests did decrease in Ferguson and Baltimore following protests over the deaths of Michael Brown and Freddie Gray, suggesting police had scaled back the rate at which they did their jobs. However, only in Baltimore was there a significant rise in violent crime. The second study found that in areas where police departments came under investigation and then had to alter their policies, crime rose. This could make the case that very public scrutiny of their work can lead police to

However, an Op-Ed in the Times also published last weekend argued that the real Ferguson Effect is something else: it’s not that scrutiny of police makes cops more hesitant to enforce the law; rather, publicizing police brutality makes people, especially black people, less trusting of law enforcement and thus less likely to call 911. Research that shows that areas with high levels of mistrust in police have higher crime rates would seem to back this up.