C. Community-based Alternatives to Juvenile Detention

When students do end up in juvenile court for violating zero-tolerance policies, judges in many jurisdictions have the option of referring these young people to community-based programs. "The most successful programs are those that emphasize family interactions, probably because they focus on providing skills to the adults who are in the best position to supervise and train the child. More traditional interventions that punish or attempt to frighten the youths are the least successful."  

One cost-effective approach that has proven to be particularly successful in rehabilitating court-involved youth, including students with disciplinary problems, is Functional Family Therapy (FFT).   In the first phase of FFT, a therapist helps the student and his family overcome intense negative feelings that prevent change (such as hopelessness and anger).   In the second phase, the therapist assists the student and his family members in implementing immediate and long-term behavioral changes "that are culturally appropriate, context sensitive, and tailored to the unique characteristics of each family member."   Finally, the student and his family generalize these behaviors to other problems in order to maintain change and prevent relapse.  

Many studies over the past three decades have shown that FFT results in "significant and long-term reductions in youth re-offending."   For example, one study found that only 8.7% of subjects who participated in FFT committed a criminal offense within five years of completing the program, whereas 40.9% of those who received only probation services committed a criminal offense during that period.   Thus, community-based programs such as FFT can be effective tools for directing students away from out-of-home placements. Juvenile courts should use these programs to keep students in their communities and slow the school-to-prison pipeline.