The role of the school system in managing and reducing the scope of juvenile delinquency has long been a matter of concern in criminal justice research. Researchers have sought to understand if the school processes and disciplinary measures adopted by school principals would have any visible effects on juvenile delinquency and arrest. In their study, Monahan, VanDerhei, Bechtold, and Cauffman (2014) have focused specifically on zero tolerance policies adopted by schools. These policies imply the implementation of robust disciplinary measures, suspension and expulsion being the primary ones. Monahan et al. (2014) assume that “an unintended consequence of zero tolerance policies is that school suspension or expulsion may increase risk for contact with the juvenile justice system” (p. 1110). This assumption governed their research. The purpose of the study was to test the relationship between being absent from school due to suspension, expulsion, or truancy and the risks of being arrested (Monahan et al., 2014). More specifically, the researchers measured and analyzed the associations between truancy, absence from school due to poor discipline, and arrest (Monahan et al., 2014). Monahan et al. (2014) hypothesized that the likelihood of being arrested would increase during the month when the student was either disciplined or truant. The researchers also investigated the power of demographic characteristics (race, age, sex, and history of behavioral violations) and contextual factors to moderate the relationship between absence from school and the likelihood of arrest (Monahan et al., 2014).
Monahan et al. (2014) retrieved the data for their study from a large sample of respondents participating in the Pathways to Desistance study. A total of 1,170 male and 184 female adolescents aged between 14 and 17 years were included, but only 80 percent of them agreed to participate (Monahan et al., 2014). The researchers used interviews to gather primary data. The following variables were considered: monthly arrest, monthly truancy, and monthly expulsion or suspension from school (Monahan et al., 2014). Fixed effects models of regression were used to quantify the relationships among variables and interpret their meaning. Overall, quantitative methods offer a better opportunity for a complex analysis of statistical relationships among variables. Because the researchers sought to measure the relationships among numerous primary and secondary variables over a 6-month period, the use of statistical regressions in their study was completely justified. Monahan et al. (2014) also developed and used fixed effects models, while taking into account their strengths and limitations. This analysis of fixed effects models creates a more realistic picture of the study methods and their potential implications for the validity and reliability of the study results.

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The researchers have found a direct statistical correlation between the use of disciplinary school measures, school truancy, and the likelihood of being arrested. In a month when a young person was truant from school, he or she was 2.42 times more likely to be arrested; the risks of arrest when disciplinary measures were applied were 2.10 times higher as compared to a month without truancy or disciplinary attempts (Monahan et al., 2014). Age, race and sex did not have any statistical effects on the relationship among variables, whereas the risks of being arrested due to suspension or expulsion increased for the youth who had no history of early problem behavior (Monahan et al., 2014). To put it simply, the results suggest that the risks of disciplinary measures in relation to arrest are lower than the effects of voluntary absence from school due to truancy on the likelihood of being arrested. The results also reject a popular hypothesis that race and ethnicity are significant predictors of poor discipline and youth delinquency: Monahan et al. (2014) confirm that youth of all racial and ethnic backgrounds can face disciplinary measures and come into closer contact with the criminal justice system.

In my opinion, Monahan et al. (2014) raise an important issue of schools and their effects on youth delinquency and crime. One of the strongest features of the study is that the researchers used quantitative techniques and tested numerous variables to understand how the disciplinary measures adopted by schools and the risks of coming into contact with the criminal justice system are related. I believe this study to be eye-opening for several reasons. First, the researchers have delivered compelling evidence that the disciplinary measures used by schools can expose adolescents and young adults to the risks of delinquency and crime. In other words, schools play a critical role in shaping the behavioral patterns among youth. Second, Monahan et al. (2014) have shown that the risks of being arrested do not vary by age, sex, or race: every young individual is equally likely to face arrest following suspension or due to truancy. Third, and this I think is the most important aspect of the study, young people without a history of problematic behaviors are more likely to be arrested than those who are known to be delinquent. Future research is needed to explain these complex relationships. However, I agree with Monahan et al. (2014) in that schools should adopt differentiated approaches to discipline and justice to reduce the risks of delinquency and arrest in youth.

The article directly relates to this course, since it uncovers the hidden facets of youth delinquency. The results once again reaffirm the critical role the system of education plays in managing and preventing delinquent behaviors in youth. The main thing I have learned from this article is that the school, the criminal justice system, and young people with their parents should come together to review the existing zero tolerance policies and reduce the risks of arrest for adolescents and young adults. Overall, the results of this study can inform the development of more individualized disciplinary approaches within the school system.

  • Monahan, K.C., VanDerhei, S., Bechtold, J., & Cauffman, E. (2014). From the school yard to
    the squad car: School discipline, truancy, and arrest. Journal of Youth & Adolescence, 43, 1110-1122.