Arresting Development: Student Arrests in Connecticut

Back • Publication Date: September 11th, 2013

Authors: Sarah Esty

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This analysis of records from Connecticut schools shows an encouraging reduction in the number of student arrests in our schools.  This reduction in arrest rates was likely due to reforms of school discipline policies that followed passage of a 2007 law limiting the use of out-of-school suspensions.  Despite this positive news, room for improvement remains.   Records show that many of the students were arrested for behaviors that were probably not criminal and could likely have been handled within the school without police involvement.  In addition, racial and ethnic disparities in arrest rates, together with wide variations in arrest rates among similar school districts, suggest a need for uniform criteria in decisions about arresting students in school.

Among the findings of the report:

  • The number of students arrested has declined in recent years.  During the 2011 school year, 2,936 students (about one in 200) were arrested.  This was a 13.5% decline in the number of children arrested from the peak of 3,396 students arrested in the 2008 school year.
  • Many arrests were likely avoidable.  A significant share of arrests were for reasons that the report classified as likely avoidable (11%) – behaviors that were probably not criminal and could have been handled within the classroom or school.  These reasons included skipping class, insubordination, and using profanities.  The report classified another one-quarter of arrests (23%) as questionably necessary – incidents that may have risen to the level of a crime in some circumstances but in many cases could have been handled by the school. These included categories like physical altercations without injuries, bullying, obscene behavior, and false fire alarms.
  • Arrest rates were higher for students of color, students in poor districts, and special education students.  Black students were 3.7 times and Hispanic students 3.2 times more likely to be arrested than white students.  Racial disparities in student arrest rates are not confined to urban or suburban schools; 59% of school districts had higher arrest rates for black students than white students.
  • Arrest rates varied widely between similar school districts and among schools in the same district, suggesting that much of this variation is driven by differences in school practices, not simply differences in the student population or socioeconomic factors.  While lower-income and urban districts tended to have higher arrest rates overall, many of these districts had rates below or near the statewide average, including Derby, Norwalk, Stamford, Bridgeport, Hartford, and New Haven.