Disrupting School-Justice Pathways for Youth with Behavioral Health Needs

OVER THE PAST SEVERAL DECADES, the increasing use of zero-tolerance policies in schools, coupled with a trend toward the use of law enforcement to respond to a wide array of misbehavior inside schools, led to a dramatic increase in exclusionary discipline (suspension and expulsion) and school-based arrests. Examples of the use of arrest to respond to low-level school infractions highlight the proliferation of pathways from schools to justice system involvement. A 6-year-old kindergartener was handcuffed and arrested for throwing a temper tantrum in the classroom, (Campbell) youth as young as 11 have been arrested for participating in cafeteria food fights, (Saulny) and young people have been arrested for infractions as minor as doodling on a desk. (Monahan) As the research discussed below indicates, youth with behavioral health needs (which include mental health conditions, substance use disorders, and experience of traumatic stress) are at increased risk of both exclusionary school discipline and school-based arrest. The work of the National Center for Mental Health and Juvenile Justice has focused on supporting states and localities in efforts to reduce that risk since coordinating the MacArthur Foundation’s Models for Change Mental Health/Juvenile Justice Action Network from 2007 – 2011. During that time, the eight participating states identified school-based diversion from justice system involvement as a top priority to keep children and youth with behavioral health needs away from unnecessary juvenile justice system involvement.
Presented by the National Center for Mental Health and Juvenile Justice; National Council for Juvenile and Family Court Judges; and Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.