Consequences of Juvenile Arrests on Education: How Law and Educational Policies Hurt More than Help

More than 60 percent of American colleges consider criminal history as part of the admissions process, placing juvenile delinquents at a serious disadvantage for future education and employment opportunities. The authors of “Juvenile Arrest and Collateral Educational Damage in the Transition to Adulthood,” published in 2013, study the effects of juvenile arrests on educational attainment. They find that juvenile arrests are associated with an increase in high school dropouts as well as a decrease in college enrollment. The most troubling finding shows that students are not choosing on their own to drop out of school. Rather, increasing high school dropouts and decreasing college enrollments are the consequences of policies that encourage schools to isolate and expel disruptive and delinquent students.

The authors conduct an experiment in three waves between 1995 and 2002 on approximately 1,000 adolescents in Chicago. The experiment uses data from sources that include the Chicago Police Department and Chicago Public Schools (CPS) to measure the effect of arrests on high school dropouts and college enrollments.

The authors’ findings paint a disheartening picture. Specifically, the study revealed that 64 percent of adolescents who were not arrested went on to graduate from high school, whereas only 26 percent of those arrested graduated. Moreover, of the 64 percent not arrested, 35 percent enrolled in a four-year college compared to only 16 percent of arrestees.

The study predicts that the probability of dropping out of school is 22 percent greater for arrested adolescents than for those who are not arrested. Not surprisingly, these results unveil a detrimental effect of juvenile arrests on educational attainment by showing that arrested students are at a greater risk of dropping out of high school than other students with the same individual characteristics.

The study also finds that the education gap between arrestees and non-arrestees persists after high school. For arrestees, the probability of enrolling in a four-year college is 16 percent lower than for similar adolescents who are not arrested. These findings are specific to four-year colleges; two-year colleges did not show significant decreases in enrollment for arrestees. Therefore, the authors conclude that juvenile arrests limit the post-secondary educational opportunities to only two-year institutions for the majority of arrestees. Moreover, high school is often the last educational stop once an adolescent is arrested, presenting a bleak future for those students and the communities that would have benefited from their realized talents.

The authors also dispel the claim that the negative stigma associated with arrest causes dropouts or lower college enrollments. Specifically, stigma associated with a criminal record, students’ weakened attachment to school, and rejection from social peers because of a criminal record are not powerful indicators of why arrestees are more likely to drop out of high school and not enroll in college. But if arrested students are not forced out by peers, why do these students drop out? One theory is that the schools that aspire to be considered “safe” in order to receive additional government resources indirectly force the students to drop out by isolating them in the hopes of mitigating disturbances and promoting a safe school.

The authors show that the consequences of marginalizing students with a criminal record to demonstrate a “safe, effective school” (e.g., No Child Left Behind) contribute to normalized expulsion of adolescents from the education system. The trickle-down effect of these policies leads to repeat offenses and unemployment. Perhaps the best way to increase educational attainment and decrease juvenile arrests, then, begins with focusing on at-risk children or those who come from neighborhoods characteristic of violence and poverty. Rather than encourage isolation of students with a criminal record, policies should promote fair treatment within school systems regardless of criminal background.

Article Source: David S. Kirk and Robert J. Sampson, “Juvenile Arrest and Collateral Educational Damage in the Transition to Adulthood,” Sociology of Education 86, No. 1 (Jan 2013): 36-62.

Feature Photo: cc/(Mattie C. Stewart)'
Shaun Edwards
Shaun Edwards is a staff writer for the Chicago Policy Review and is an MPP student at the Harris School of Public Policy. She is interested in public finance and policy analysis.

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