Reforming justice and discipline in the streets and in the schools – but disparities persist

Ticketing rates were up vs arrests for Chicagoans found in possession of 15 grams or less of marijuana, and the ticketing rate was similar, a little less than 30 percent, across all races, according to the Sun Times. This data was enough for Alderman Brookins and other alderman, as part of a re-election push for the mayor, to claim the end of disparate treatment against African Americans, attributable to reformed behaviors in the police department. But an immediate follow-up examination of the numbers by the Sun Times showed that ticketing and arrests as a rate of the population were still alarmingly disproportionate. Blacks were ticketed and arrested 16 times more often than whites.

The mayor and Chicago Public Schools officials have also touted progress in reforming school discipline over the last several years, but like marijuana arrests, the data on the number of suspensions meted out belie their claims. For years local and national groups brought attention to the alarming use of suspensions and expulsions in Chicago’s schools and their disproportionate impacts on students of color. CPS announced changes to the student code of conduct in 2012, eliminating automatic 10-day suspensions and reducing the maximum punishment for a range of offenses. This year the administration and the mayor claimed major progress in reforming school discipline, while announcing further revisions to their discipline code. The mayor’s re-election campaign claims a reversal of zero tolerance policies, pointing to steep drops in the raw number of out of school suspensions, referrals for expulsion and in-school arrests since 2011.

But what their numbers don’t illustrate is the disparate impact of school discipline on students of color that has persisted even as the district has changed official policy. In fact, by some measures it has gotten worse. As CPS raised the thresholds for using out-of-school suspensions, the use of in-school suspensions to deal with misconducts has risen across CPS, and the percentage of Black students receiving such suspensions has risen. From SY2012 to SY2014, the percent of misconducts resulting in an in-school suspension rose from 25.9% to 31.6% district-wide. This increase was largely due to increasing numbers of in-school suspensions for African American students, which rose from 21,061 to 24,567. African American students’ share of all in-school suspensions increased from 62% in SY2012 to 65% in SY2014.

Furthermore, out-of-school suspensions still have an extraordinary disparate effect on Black students, with 46% of misconducts resulting in out of school suspension for Black students in 2014 compared to 32% for white students. Black students represented 75% of students receiving out of school suspensions in SY2014, up slightly from 74% in SY2012.

These disparities persist because CPS mandated a reduction in out-of-school suspensions and expulsions without addressing the breadth of issues that lead to disciplinary problems, and without providing adequate resources for restorative justice programs to resolve conflicts. Changing the thresholds for a range of offenses in a discipline code doesn’t address the conditions that lead to school administrators and staff resorting to the greatest punishment available to maintain order. Likewise, decriminalizing marijuana possession won’t undo the other incentives and entrenched procedures in law enforcement that lead to the disproportionate detention and arrest of people of color.

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About Pavlyn Jankov

Pavlyn Jankov is a researcher for the Chicago Teachers Union. His research focuses on school inequality and segregation, how predatory financial institutions harm our public services, and how to right the ship!

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