From the School Yard to the Squad Car: School Discipline, Truancy, and Arrest

Abstract

Since the 1990’s, implementation of zero tolerance policies in schools has led to increased use of school suspension and expulsion as disciplinary techniques for students with varying degrees of infractions. An unintended consequence of zero tolerance policies is that school suspension or expulsion may increase risk for contact with the juvenile justice system. In the present study, we test how forced absence from school via suspension or expulsion and chosen absence from school (truancy) are associated with the likelihood of being arrested. Using month-level data from 6,636 months from a longitudinal study of delinquent adolescents (N = 1,354; 13.5 % female; 41.5 % Black, 33.5 % Hispanic-American, 20.2 % White), we compare the likelihood of being arrested, within individuals, for months when youth were and were not suspended or expelled from school and for months when youth were and were not truant. Finally, we test if these associations were moderated by stable demographic characteristics (sex, race, age, history of problem behaviors) and time-varying contextual factors (peer delinquency, parental monitoring, and commitment to school). Being suspended or expelled from school increased the likelihood of arrest in that same month and this effect was stronger among youth who did not have a history of behavior problems and when youth associated with less delinquent peers. Truancy independently contributed to the likelihood of arrest, but this association was explained by differences in parental monitoring and school commitment. Thus, school disciplinary action places youth at risk for involvement in the juvenile justice system and this may be especially true for less risky youth.

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Acknowledgments

The project described was supported by funds from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (2005-JK-FX-K001), National Institute of Justice (2008-IJ-CX-0023), John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, William T. Grant Foundation, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, William Penn Foundation, Centers for Disease Control, National Institute on Drug Abuse Grant R01 DA 019697 05, Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency, and the Arizona Governor’s Justice Commission. We are grateful for their support. The content of this manuscript, however, is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of these agencies.

Author contributions

KM conceived of the study, performed the statistical analyses, and coordinated and drafted the manuscript. SV assisted in the conceptual framework and statistical analyses and drafting of the manuscript. JB participated in the conceptual framework of the study, reviewed statistical analyses, and assisted in the drafting of the manuscript. EC was a Principal Investigator on the project and participated in the study design and data collection, provided conceptual insight on the study, and assisted in drafting of the manuscript. All authors have read and approved the final manuscript.

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Correspondence to Kathryn C. Monahan.

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Monahan, K.C., VanDerhei, S., Bechtold, J. et al. From the School Yard to the Squad Car: School Discipline, Truancy, and Arrest. J Youth Adolescence 43, 1110–1122 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10964-014-0103-1

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Keywords

  • School suspension
  • School expulsion
  • Truancy
  • Arrest
  • Zero tolerance