Not all 16 and 17-year-olds who commit certain crimes will be tried as adults, according to a new state law. But a report from the the Southern Coalition for Social Justice says schools are still funneling too many students of color into the juvenile and adult court systems.
Peggy Nicholson of the Youth Justice Project says more than half of juvenile complaints are filed against black youth, even though they make up less than a quarter of the population. Students of color are also punished more harshly than white students for the same disruptions.
“Offenses that used to be handled in the principal's office are now often referred to the juvenile court system, and those kids don't need to be in any court system,” Nicholson said. “Instead, they need to be given other opportunities in the school environment to address the behavior.”
She added: “That also will keep them from getting involved in this cycle of crime or cycle of court involvement that we so often see."
Keeping kids in the school environment with positive influences will be better for students and public safety in the long run, said Nicholson. She also recommends hiring staff to promote racial equality in schools. Both Durham and Wake Counties Public Schools have already done this.
“That's a first step for a lot of school districts, to really have someone who is taking a leadership role and addressing the problem of racial disproportionality,” Nicholson said.