Todd Krohn, over at The Power Elite, continues his exposing of the criminalization of adolescence through a variety of measures often under the banner of “zero tolerance”, the educational version of the oh-so-effective broken windows theory of crime.
What is the broken windows theory of crime?
“The concept of broken windows was developed by James Q. Wilson and George L. Kelling who published their article titled Broken Windows: The police and Neighbour Safety in the March, 1982 edition of The Atlantic Monthly. The authors posited their theory in the following words: “Social psychologists and police officers tend to agree that if a window in a building is broken and is left unrepaired, all the rest of the windows will soon be broken. This is as true in nice neighborhoods as in run-down ones. Window breaking does not necessarily occur on a large scale because some areas are inhabited by determined window-breakers whereas others are populated by window-lovers; rather, one unrepaired broken window is a signal that no one cares, and so breaking more windows costs nothing (it has always been fun).” “The essence of Broken Windows,” explains Charles Pollard, “is that minor incivilities (such as drunkenness, begging, vandalism, disorderly behaviour, graffiti, litter etc.), if unchecked and uncontrolled, produce an atmosphere in a community or on a street in which more serious crime will flourish.” In other words, crimes flourish because of lax enforcement.”
Loic Wacquant makes mincemeat of it:
“According to Wacquant it is not the police who make crime go away. A trenchant critic of Giuliani-Bratton police work, Waquant puts forth the view that six factors independent of police work have significantly reduced crime rates in America. First, the boom in economy provided jobs for youth and diverted them from street crimes. Even though the official poverty rate of New York City remained unchanged at 20% during the entire decade of the 1990s, Latinos benefited by the deskilled labour market. The blacks, buoyed by the hope of the flourishing economy, went back to school and avoided illegal trade. Thus even though under-employment and low paid work persisted there was decline of aggregate unemployment rates which explains 30% decrease in national crime rates.
Second, there was twofold transformation in drug trade. The retail trade in crack in poor neighbourhoods attained stability. The turf wars subsided and violent competition among rival gangs decreased. The narcotic sector had become oligopolised. This resulted in a sharp drop in drug related street murders. In 1998 it dropped below the one hundred mark from 670 murders in 1991. The change in consumption of drugs went from crack to other drugs such as marijuana, heroin, and methamphetamines, a trade which is less violent as it is based on networks of mutual acquaintances rather than anonymous exchange places.
Third, the number of young people (age group between 18-24) declined. It must be noted that the young people in this age group are found most responsible for crimes. The AIDS epidemic among drug users, drug overdose deaths, gang related homicides and young criminals imprisoned eliminated this group by 43,000. This decline of young people resulted in the drop of street crimes by 1/10th.
Fourth, the impact of learning effect that the deaths of earlier generations of young people had on the later generation, especially those born after 1975-1980, avoided drugs and stayed away from risky life styles.
Fifth, the role played by churches, schools, clubs and other organizations in awareness and prevention campaigns exercised informal social control and helped to control crimes.
Sixth, the statistical law of regression states that when there is abnormally high incidence of crime it is likely to decline and settle towards the mean. Wacquant concludes that the dynamic interplay of the six factors was largely responsible for the drop in crime rates in America and the claim that policing alone was responsible for the drop in crimes at best rests on shaky empirical data.”
Zero tolerance is the same idea often applied by school authorities against adolescent behavior. In reality, the application is always biased against certain categories of the population (surprise, surprise). Krohn:
“Back in the 1970’s criminologist William Chambliss published an infamous study of juvenile delinquency entitled “The Saints and The Roughnecks.” In it, Chambliss documented how school teachers and principals often discipline students based merely on their appearance, social class and race and ethnicity (he would also show disparate treatment in the larger community, by law enforcement, in the court system, and so on).
But in school, students who were minority or working class in appearance were often punished and suspended for infractions their white, middle class-looking brethren would often escape punishment. And now we can conclude that things have only gotten worse in the last 30+ years.
The study analyzed four decades of federal Department of Education data on suspensions, with a special focus on figures from 2002 and 2006, that were drawn from 9,220 of the nation’s 16,000 public middle schools.
The study, “Suspended Education: Urban Middle Schools in Crisis,” was published by the Southern Poverty Law Center, a nonprofit civil rights organization.
Throughout America’s public schools, in kindergarten through high school, the percent of students suspended each year nearly doubled from the early 1970s through 2006, the authors said, an increase that they associate, in part, with the rise of so-called zero-tolerance school discipline policies.In 1973, on average, 3.7 percent of public school students of all races were suspended at least once. By 2006, that percentage had risen to 6.9 percent.
Both in 1973 and in 2006, black students were suspended at higher rates than whites, but over that period, the gap increased. In 1973, 6 percent of all black students were suspended. In 2006, 15 percent of all blacks were suspended.
Among the students attending one of the 9,220 middle schools in the study sample, 28 percent of black boys and 18 percent of black girls, compared with 10 percent of white boys and 4 percent of white girls, were suspended in 2006, the study found.
Beyond the racial, ethnic and class disparities lies the issue of “zero-tolerance” which, as we now know, means “zero-sense.” The ongoing criminalizing of childhood and adolescence has had a real effect, via the suspension process, on a generation of kids.”
And as Krohn notes, with the Duncan Department of Education dangling money under the noses of the states in exchange for charter schools and higher test scores, there are really no incentive to not suspend or expell.