From March through May of this year, more than 700 arrests were made in Connecticut schools, two-thirds of them for minor offenses such as breach of peace or disorderly conduct, according to data obtained from the Court Support Services Division (CSSD).
In Hartford alone, 87 arrests were made in schools, including 54 at grade K-8 schools. One Hartford elementary school, the Latino Studies Academy at Burns, recorded 16 arrests in the 2 1/2 month period. Similarly in Waterbury, 59 arrests were reported, more than half at elementary and middle schools. Offenses run the gamut from possession of tobacco, to swearing at a teacher, to fist-fighting.
The arrest data, which provides only a preliminary snapshot since the state began collecting it last spring, “blows out the myth that kids get in trouble after school or over the summer, when they’re idle,” said Abby Anderson, director of the Connecticut Juvenile Justice Alliance, which has been working to reduce school-based arrests. “If you look at how kids get in trouble, it makes sense: They get in trouble as a group—especially in overcrowded, under-resourced schools.”
Connecticut is one of a handful of states trying to tackle school-based arrests, which experts say fuel recidivism in the criminal justice system and often are used in place of interventions that can lead to better outcomes for children. School arrests have become increasingly commonplace in the post-Columbine era, with many districts imposing “zero tolerance” policies on student misbehavior. Zero tolerance, originally coined in the 1980s for strict drug-seizure policies, has been expanded to include punishment for fighting, swearing, disrupting class, disobedience, truancy and other forms of misbehavior.
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