Suspensions and expulsions are strong predictors of drug use

Suspensions and expulsions are strong predictors of drug use

(Va.) School suspensions and expulsions have long been linked to an increased likelihood that students will come into contact with the juvenile justice system, but a new study suggests exclusionary discipline can also lead to drug use well into adulthood.

Following years of adherence to zero tolerance policies, there’s been a significant push to disassemble what has been termed the “school-to-prison pipeline,” in which students are pushed out of school due to strict, punitive measures for bad behavior, and enter the juvenile justice system.

 “Our findings add to growing concerns about school disciplinary practices that exclude youth,” Beidi Dong, assistant professor in the Department of Criminology, Law, and Society at George Mason University and lead author of the study, said in a statement. “Amid alarm about the school-to-prison pipeline, the conclusion that school exclusion is even more problematic for students' well-being than police arrest highlights the need to find alternative methods to discipline students so exclusion is used only as a last resort.”

Indeed, national data shows a disparity in how punitive measures have been used—especially for at-risk subgroups. Black students in K-12 schools are almost 4 times as likely to be suspended, and twice as likely to be expelled, as white students. Similarly, students with disabilities are more than twice as likely to receive out-of-school suspensions as students without disabilities.

A recent report from the U.S. Department of Education even showed almost 7,000 pre-schoolers were suspended during the 2013-14 school year.

In states including Virginia, Maryland, Tennessee, Louisiana and Oregon, legislation has been adopted to address such issues–whether by restricting suspension and expulsion by grade level and type of infraction, or limiting the length of exclusion.

Meanwhile, district- or state-wide bans on out-of-school suspensions for young children have been adopted in California, New York, Minnesota, Texas and Illinois.

Many policymakers have also adopted restorative justice practices that allow students to address the root issues of their behavior and take responsibility for their actions while remaining in school.

Researchers at George Mason University used data from the longitudinal Rochester Youth Developmental Study that began in 1988 with 1,000 seventh- and eighth-grade students in Rochester, New York and tracked them to age 31.

Examining both the immediate influence of school and police interventions on drug use during adolescence, as well as the long-term, cumulative effect of these interventions on subsequent drug use later in life, researchers found that school exclusionary practices appeared to strongly predict one’s likelihood of drug use.

In fact, being suspended or expelled from school was found to be a stronger predictor of drug use than juvenile arrests.

The study showed negative effects were especially pronounced among minority youth, and that exclusionary punitive measures were a stronger predictor of short-term drug use among girls, and of long-term drug use among boys.

Co-author of the study, Marvin Krohn, noted that the act of removing adolescents from school provides unstructured and unsupervised time that can facilitate drug use, whereas once they have been arrested, youth are under constant supervision.

“This should be kept in mind as educators and others consider other ways to discipline students,” said Khron, professor in the Department of Sociology and Criminology and Law at the University of Florida.

Florida’s largest school district–the Miami-Dade County school system–has been working to provide that supervision for students who have been suspended.

Instead of kicking kids out of school, the district set up Success Centers about three years ago where certified teachers would make sure students kept up on their schoolwork and counselors could help children and families figure out the root causes of behavior problems and provide referrals to community services.

There have been issues regarding transportation and students’ school work not showing up at the centers, but officials told reporters for the Miami Herald that they were working to fix those problems.

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