Institutionalized racism is structural, having been codified in our institutions as custom, practice, policy, and law. Race Matters for Juvenile Justice collaborative partners are committed to evaluating the policies of our institutions for disproportionate or disparate impact based on race and drafting new policy to promote equitable practices and reduce disproportionate outcomes for people of color impacted by our systems.

RMJJ is engaged in policy reform through the Juvenile Disciplinary Policy Council and the Mecklenburg County School-Justice Partnership. Significant progress has been achieved in juvenile justice policy by recognizing that children, despite a willful act of delinquency, possess a formative mind and should be treated differently than adults. Nevertheless, schools, juvenile justice, and legislatures promulgate laws and policies that treat children as adults in contradiction of the philosophy underlying the creation and role of juvenile courts.

Specifically, many school districts across the country have adopted zero tolerance policies that send children out of school and into court for misbehavior that historically has been handled in schools. Poe-Yamagata and Jones contend that zero tolerance policies have contributed to the near doubling of students suspended annually from 1.7 million in 1974 to 3.1 million in 20011. In North Carolina, the number of police officers on school campuses has increased 250% since 19962. Additionally, research suggests that the exclusionary disciplinary practices (e.g., suspensions) that accompany zero tolerance policies place children at significant risk for academic failure and justice system involvement for minor infractions that can be handled without compromising school safety. National scholar Russell Skiba’s research shows that zero tolerance policies have not only failed to result in demonstrable improvements in school safety, they may have adversely impacted student and teacher assessments of school climate3. Schools with higher suspension and expulsion rates have been found to have lower outcomes on statewide test scores, regardless of student demographics4.

Children of color disproportionately experience these negative outcomes5. Zero tolerance policies and the excessive use of exclusionary discipline exacerbate the existing racial and ethnic disparities in public education.

Schools, law enforcement and various agencies of the Court share responsibility for school safety and must work together with complementary policies and procedures to ensure a safe learning environment for Charlotte-Mecklenburg students. RMJJ through The Juvenile Disciplinary Policy Council has worked to assist Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools in the revision of the Student Code of Conduct to reduce out of school suspensions and implement supportive alternatives to exclusionary discipline (http://www.cms.k12.nc.us/mediaroom/backtoschool/Documents/2015-2016 Code of Student Conduct (English).pdf). This resulted in a 14% reduction in suspensions in the first year of implementation6.

Additionally, The Mecklenburg County School Justice Partnership was formed upon the execution of a Memorandum of Agreement among area law enforcement agencies, CMS, Juvenile Justice, the District Attorney, and the District Court to keep kids in school and out of court for minor conduct that does not pose a serious threat to school safety. The MCSJP has implemented a school-based diversion program across the school district for certain misdemeanor offenses that occur on school campuses.

  1. Poe-Yamagata, E. & Jones, M. (2000). And Justice for some. Washington, DC: Building Blocks for Youth.
  2. North Carolina School Resource Officer Census (2015). North Carolina Department of Public Safety. http://www.ncdps.gov/document/2015-north-carolina-school-resource-officer-census
  3. Skiba, R.J. (2012). Reaching A Critical Juncture for Our Kids: The Need to Reassess School-Justice Practices. Keeping Kids in School and Out of Courts: A Collection of Reports to Inform the National Leadership Summit on School-Justice Partnerships, vi.
  4. Skiba, R.J. (2012). Reaching A Critical Juncture for Our Kids: The Need to Reassess School-Justice Practices. Keeping Kids in School and Out of Courts: A Collection of Reports to Inform the National Leadership Summit on School-Justice Partnerships, vi.
  5. Losen, D.J. (2011). Discipline, Policies, Successful Schools, and Racial Justice. Boulder, CO: National Education Policy Center. http://nepc.colorado.edu/publication/discipline-policies.
  6. Dunn, A. (May 31, 2015). New Approach Leads to Drop in CMS Suspension. The Charlotte Observer.

Legislative, Policy Change, and Finance Reform Subcommittee Chair:
Heather Taraska, District Attorney’s Office and Russell Price, Department of Juvenile Justice