Juvenile justice in the shadows : Texas' municipal courts and the punishment of school misbehavior
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Over the last several decades, punishment in school has become increasingly harsh. Students are suspended and expelled for minor infractions or are being referred to the criminal justice system for behaviors that, in the past, were largely dealt with by school administrators. In addition, school districts are hiring their own police and security forces, and surveillance technologies are becoming a permanent part of school budgets and spaces. Three converging social trends have facilitated these changes in school discipline: (1) the steady growth of a pervasive sense of social anxiety coupled with a political and cultural shift away from rehabilitative to more punitive forms of punishment (e.g., imprisonment, the death penalty, etc.); (2) a series of moral panics in the 1980s and 1990s about drugs, gangs, and violence that heightened fear of, and for, the nation’s youth; and, (3) shifts in both policing philosophy and funding towards increased police penetration into community settings. Concerns are mounting that the intertwining of schools and criminal justice has forged a “school-to-prison pipeline” for some students, especially special education students, poor students and students of color. My dissertation focuses on one aspect of the pipeline: issuing citations to students for school misbehavior. There are three questions I seek to address: For what behaviors or activities are students being ticketed? What are the characteristics of students being ticketed? After school- based citations enter the courtroom, how are these students processed? I use quantitative and qualitative data to address these questions. My larger argument is that school discipline processes not only have significant consequences for the life chances of our country’s young people, but they also have very serious consequences for the civil liberties of all public school students and for the socialization of our young people into the principals of democratic citizenship.