In a recent Guardian article Chris McGreal reports on the Texas schools hosting their own police forces. Police officers patrol school corridors, maintaining order, arresting and charging students with a range of offences which, had they been committed outside of the school’s jurisdiction would be classified as misdemeanours. Children who are charged are left with a criminal record which can impact on their future prospects. Thus, childhood misbehaviour and, more generally childhood itself is criminalised.
Marxist sociologists would argue that schools have long been designed as spaces for the control, regulation, surveillance and discipline of (mainly) working class children. Drill practice was common in Victorian schools, and galleried classrooms lend evidence to the notion of the school as a panopticon, as do biometric controls and CCTV in contemporary schools in the UK and USA. In the United States, Bowles and Gintis (1976: 39) highlighted the “repressive nature” of schooling with its focus on discipline and obedience. However, as Hirschfield (2008: 80) observes “the traditional disciplinary project of American mass education is slowly crumbling” as the behaviours of students which would once be dealt with via school discipline are criminalised.
It can be argued that this school to prison pipeline replaces the school to factory pipeline described by Bowles and Gintis (op. cit). Schools are no longer required to socialise the next generation of workers, instead they prevent and punish crime, even if that involves expanding the definition of criminal behaviour. And thus, alongside de-industrialisation the criminal justice system has expanded. Brown (2006) comments on the numbers of school police officers’ associations in the United State, presumably created to protect, and possibly promote their professional interests.
All this relates to the United States. The presence of police officers in UK schools is recognised to be increasing. Late last year, the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) published Police officers in schools: a scoping study which explored the ways in which the police service worked with schools. That report did identify a number of challenges to the successful involvement of police in schools. However, it also appears to accept early intervention as a rationale for police involvement, and is focused on the mutual benefits to pupils, schools, the police and the community. The report’s concluding section sets out recommendations for ensuring the ‘success’ of police work in schools. In other words, schools as agencies of criminalisation might soon be common place in the UK too.
Bowles, S and Gintis, H. (1976) Schooling in Capitalist America: Educational Reform and the Contradictions of Economic Life New York, NY: Basic Books
Brown, B (2006) ‘Understanding and assessing school police officers: A conceptual and methodological comment’, Journal of Criminal Justice, 34, 591-604
Hirschfield, P. J. (2008) ‘Preparing for Prison? The Criminalization of School Discipline in the USA’, Theoretical Criminology, 12: 79–101
Lamont, E., Macleod, S. and Wilkin, A. (2011) Police Officers in Schools: A Scoping Study Slough: NFER.