The Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) is set to introduce a significant change in the way students are disciplined for fights, petty theft and other minor offenses. According to a Tuesday announcement, rather than issuing citations for these, school police will refer students to counseling and other rehabilitative services.
These reforms align with growing research on the negative impact that punitive action by law enforcement can have on minor offenders. This research has indicated that criminalizing minor offenses at schools does not necessarily reduce their occurrence or make campuses safer but instead can encourage students to drop out, where they are then at a higher risk of committing more serious crimes and being arrested.
According to a representative of the Community Rights Campaign, a civil rights group that has led efforts to reduce police presence and involvement at Los Angeles schools, national studies have shown that an arrest may double a student's risk of dropping out of school.
When the reforms are implemented, students at LAUSD schools will experience the benefit of receiving support and a chance at rehabilitation rather than immediate punishment. For most students involved in fights, which account for about one in five arrests at LAUSD schools, they will be referred to city YouthSource Centers for counseling and support. For students accused of petty theft, alcohol possession, tobacco possession or possession of small amounts of marijuana, school police will refer them to school or community officials in lieu of introducing them to the criminal justice system.
These changes support the theory that Juvenile Court should only be used as a last resort for youth who commit minor offenses. They may also serve to conserve resources and manpower that would have otherwise been used at Juvenile Courts to try and sentence youth offenders. Allowing LAUSD and community officials to handle student offenders internally with a focus on rehabilitation may result in numerous benefits for students and the community as a whole.
Rehabilitation vs. Punishment for Minor Offenders
Minors are not the only ones who may benefit from rehabilitation or counseling in lieu of criminal punishment. First-time drug offenders may be able to receive court-ordered treatment instead of facing jail time, under California's Drug Diversion Program. If you are interested in learning more about your options as a student or a first-time arrestee for a drug-related crime, please call a Los Angeles criminal defense lawyer at Lessem & Newstat.
Our attorneys are proud to offer experienced defense counsel to youth and adult arrestees and defendants across Southern California, utilizing our resources to help our clients secure dismissals and acquittals whenever possible. Call today for a confidential review of your case.