This work, begun in January 2012, seeks to fill a critical gap in the body of research on the influence of school climate and punitive disciplinary policies on young people’s delinquency and long-term criminal justice involvement. The widespread adoption of such policies since the late 1980s—including mandatory expulsions for certain infractions, the presence of police officers in schools, and higher levels of collaboration between schools and juvenile justice agencies—has increased the need for research into their effects.

Using data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health)—a nationally representative study of adolescents in grades 7 to 12 in the United States during the 1994-95 school year—CYJ researchers explored how disciplinary policies and other school climate factors are related to delinquency, crime, and justice system involvement over the short and long term. They also examined how these characteristics of schools interact with other influences on youth—such as family, peers, and community—to affect these outcomes. Add Health provided a unique opportunity to draw on data on a large scope of topics, including school practices and youth behavior, from the perspective of youth, parents, and school administrators.

Why study school disciplinary practices?

Harsh disciplinary practices operate on a punitive continuum that often leads to removing youth either temporarily or permanently from school, thus contributing to higher dropout rates and diminished educational, social, and civic opportunities. If these practices that marginalize young people push them toward a greater probability of delinquency and crime, they in effect form a “school-to-prison pipeline” that propels youth into the juvenile and adult justice systems. Studies have shown that students suspended or expelled from school under zero-tolerance policies are more likely to be arrested within one year than those not subjected to such punishments. Vera’s study will contribute the kind of rigorous, longitudinal research needed to clarify how school policies influence crime and delinquency outcomes in both the short and long term.