Academic journal article Journal of Rural Social Sciences

Do Rural School Resource Officers Contribute to Net-Widening? Evidence from a Southern State

Academic journal article Journal of Rural Social Sciences

Do Rural School Resource Officers Contribute to Net-Widening? Evidence from a Southern State

Article excerpt

In the late 1990s and early 21st century, a series of school shootings and public perceptions that schools were becoming increasingly violent and out-of-control focused public and scholarly attention on the issues of disorder, antisocial behavior, and crime within schools (Noguera 1995). Events such as the Sandy Hook Elementary School mass murder continue to contribute to public fears, although students or teachers in kindergarten to grade 12 schools have a low risk of being injured in such events (Robers et al. 2015). A range of violence reduction strategies has been proposed to reduce the likelihood of future tragedies, and some interest groups and policymakers have advocated that armed guards be placed in every United States school (for review of this discussion, see Kupchik, Brent, and Mowen 2015).

Although much of the attention about school-based crime has focused on high-profile violent events, most police-reported incidents occurring at schools are minor offenses such as theft, drug use, and vandalism (Robers et al. 2015). There are also several aggressive acts-such as bullying and minor assaults-that are also prevalent (Robers et al. 2015). In the past, these acts were handled informally by school administrators through counseling and school-related sanctions such as suspensions. Today, however, there is a growing acknowledgment of the serious short- and long-term repercussions of these acts of violence on youngsters, including reducing their self-confidence as well as contributing to anxiety and depression (Malecki et al. 2015). Moreover, there is evidence that some victimized students have responded with violence and several school shooters have been described as victims of bullying (Leary et al. 2003; Vossekuil et al. 2004; Wike and Fraser 2009). Gerard et al. (2015: 13), for example, found that 93% of school shooters 18 years and younger "reported feeling depressed and/or having suicidal ideation." As a result, there is a growing interest in reducing these acts of intimidation, incivility, and violence. There is, however, a lack of consensus on how to best respond to these acts, and whether involving the justice system creates more problems than it solves.

Since the mid-1990s, school administrators and justice system officials have introduced several strategies to ameliorate these problems. Less intrusive measures include controlling access to school grounds and buildings, requiring students to wear uniforms or enforcing strict dress codes. More intrusive measures, such as having students pass through metal detectors, employing drug sniffing dogs, carrying out random searches for contraband and using security cameras to monitor school activities, have also been implemented. Robers and colleagues (2015) found that these measures have been used in an increasing number of schools over the past decade. A more controversial order maintenance strategy in schools in recent years has been expanding the presence of school resource officers (SROs).

Theriot (2009: 281) observes that while SROs have been used since the mid-1900s, their presence in schools has increased since the 1990s. Although these police officers were initially well-accepted in schools, there has been growing concern that they engage in net-widening, where youngsters now entering the juvenile justice system would have previously been handled informally by school administrators. This net widening has led to the concept of the "school-to-prison pipeline," which was the focus of a Northeastern University's Institute of Race and Justice symposium in 2003. In that symposium, Wald and Losen (2003) argued that the introduction of increasing safety measures, police officers in schools, and the use of zero tolerance policies had a disproportionate impact on minority students. They claimed that these measures had resulted in increased suspensions, school failure, and entry into the juvenile justice system, all of which have been identified as pathways toward adult incarceration (Christle, Jolivette, and Nelson, 2005), and that these measures have disproportionately affected students of color. …

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