15-year-old, Brianna, was told by her classroom teacher that she had to put away her cell phone.
When she wouldn’t put the phone away, school administrators confiscated her phone. Brianna, who has a history of trauma and diagnoses of PTSD and depression, became upset and swore at the school staff. She was told, “If you don’t calm down you’ll be arrested.” When she stated she did not care, she was handcuffed and arraigned in Middlesex Juvenile Court on a charge of “disturbing school assembly.”
In Massachusetts, youth between the ages of 7 and 17 are arraigned in juvenile court for minor offenses that are often more effectively resolved in the child’s school or community. Although overall rates of juvenile arraignment have decreased over the past decade, school-based arrests are on the rise. This national trend developed in the wake of cases like Columbine when the use of zero tolerance and the deployment of police in school without without first considering their scope of authority and relationship with educators had the unintended consequences of high rates of suspension and expulsion, resulting in school disengagement, a higher likelihood of dropping out of school, and increased involvement with the juvenile justice system and ultimately the adult criminal justice system. This trajectory, compounded by school-based arrests, has become known as the “school-to-prison pipeline.” Students of color and students with disabilities are disproportionately represented at every stage in the pipeline. The consequences for young people are dire: a juvenile record in Massachusetts can never be expunged, and can hold long term consequences for employment and virtually every other aspect of their adult lives. The long-term costs to society in unemployment, public assistance, and incarceration are significant.