Educators, juvenile justice officials, judges, and policymakers certainly face challenging decisions in determining how to provide safe learning environments for young people. There are no easy ways to prevent students from engaging in violent and disruptive activities. But zero-tolerance policies, referrals to law enforcement, and punitive judicial dispositions do little to prevent or deter violence in schools. These practices have disproportionately adverse effects on students of color, and they contribute to high rates of recidivism and highschool dropouts. Ultimately, zero tolerance and overuse of the juvenile justice system perpetuate the school-to-prison pipeline rather than create peaceful and safe places of learning.

Instead of relying on punitive discipline, school officials, lawmakers, and judges should look for innovative approaches for rehabilitating and supporting youth who misbehave. Schools have successfully implemented programs that promote positive student behavior. Governments have worked to divert juvenile offenders away from the justice system through social services and youth courts. And judges have used their discretionary power to place youth in community-based intervention programs. Violence in schools requires innovative strategies such as these, and more importantly, it requires that adults take meaningful steps to help rehabilitate students instead of simply punishing them.

Georgetown University Law Center, J.D. expected 2014;