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The Trouble With ‘Zero Tolerance’

Editorial

Congress took a reasonable step in 1994 when it required states receiving federal education money to expel students who brought guns onto school property, but states and localities overreacted, as they so often do. They enacted “zero tolerance” policies under which children are sometimes arrested for profanity, talking back, shoving matches and other behavior that would once have been resolved with detention or meetings with the students’ parents.

This arrest-first policy has been disastrous for young people, who are significantly more likely to drop out and experience long-term problems once they become entangled in the juvenile justice system. It has led to egregious racial profiling, with black and Hispanic students being shipped off to court at a higher rate than white students. And it has been a waste of time for the police to haul off children to the courts when they should be protecting the public from real criminals.

School officials who want to back away from the failed zero tolerance policy are looking to a farsighted model developed in Clayton County, Ga., a fast-growing enclave south of Atlanta. Its juvenile courts were nearly overwhelmed by students referred from their schools — mainly for minor offenses like fistfights and disruptive conduct.

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A New York Times editorial from today. Tom

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