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Juvenile Court Referrals and the Public Schools: Nature and Extent of the Practice in Five States

Federal legislation and concern about high-profile school shootings have placed attention on safe schools and school discipline. Anecdotal evidence and several reports indicate that in response to calls to promote safety, schools are increasingly referring students to the juvenile courts for acts of misbehavior. Using data from the National Juvenile Court Data Archive, the study reported here examined school referrals (SR) to the juvenile courts in five states from 1995 to 2004. We studied SR over time as well as the proportion of total referrals originating in schools. There was variability in the number of referrals to the juvenile courts originating in the schools and in the trends of SR across states as well as the odds that referrals originated in schools. We found evidence that in four of five states, referrals from schools represented a greater proportion of total referrals to juvenile courts in 2004 than in 1995. We also found differences in the odds of SR to out-of-school referrals (OSR) by race and by gender in some states but not in others. The findings suggest that states may differ in the way in which their schools respond to misbehavior and in the way their schools directly refer students to the juvenile courts. We conclude with a discussion of the implications of the findings.