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School referrals for students to law enforcement soar in Virginia

The juvenile justice system is something that many people associate with unruly children; however, a recent report by the Center for Public Integrity shows that isn't always the case. In fact, it seems as though juveniles in Virginia are being referred to the juvenile justice system by schools at a staggering rate.

The CPI looked into the rate that schools refer children to law enforcement agencies. The results of the data from the U.S. Department of Education placed Virginia at the top of the list with a referral rate of 16 referrals for every 1,000 students. That topped the national rate of six referrals for every 1,000 students.

In Virginia, many of the schools with the highest referral rates were middle schools. Students in middle schools are 11 to 14 years old. In one middle school, the referral rate was 228 referrals for every 1,000 students.

Across the United States, around 26 percent of the referrals were for special needs students. However, they only accounted for around 14 percent of all students. African American students accounted for 27 percent of the referrals. However, only 16 percent of all students were African American.

Taking a look into one juvenile's experience, one has to wonder if the referral system is doing these students justice. The juvenile is an 11-year-old boy who is on the autism spectrum. In one instance, he kicked a trash can while he was being scolded. He was charged with disorderly conduct and later found guilty, so he has a misdemeanor on file with the juvenile justice system.

Just weeks later, he had an identical charge filed for struggling when a police officer grabbed him because he didn't wait for all the other students to leave a classroom. He was hauled off in handcuffs by that officer. The officer also filed a felony assault on a police officer charge. He was found guilty of both charges.

While there is little doubt that resource officers play a huge part in keeping schools safe, there has to be a line drawn somewhere for these cases. Juveniles who are referred to the juvenile justice system have the right to offer a defense in court.

Source: The Center for Public Integrity, "Virginia tops nation in sending students to cops, courts: Where does your state rank?," Susan Ferriss, April. 10, 2015

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