Criminology School Safety, Security, and Discipline
by
Thomas J. Mowen, Emily Bragg
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 May 2021
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396607-0298

Introduction

The safety of children and young adults in the hallways of schools across the United States remains a top concern among school officials, policymakers and politicians, students, parents, and the general public alike. Overall, crime and victimization rates in schools across the United States have dropped precipitously over the past few decades and remain near historic lows. And schools tend to be a safe haven for the majority of youth across the United States. At the same time, concern over school safety—and efforts to maintain school safety—have tended to increase during the same time frame. Strategies aimed at maintaining a safe school generally fit into two broad categories: school security measures and school discipline. School security measures refer to specific devices and personnel used within the school to reduce victimization and promote the well-being of the students, teachers, administrators, and visitors. Some common examples of school security measures include identification badges worn by school personnel and students, the use of metal detectors at school entrances, school-based police (called school resource officers, or SROs) or security guards, surveillance cameras, drug-sniffing dogs, and the use of a check-in system for school visitors. The use of these types of security measures is often aimed at protecting against external threats to the school, although studies have shown that security measures significantly impact students, teachers, and parents within the school as well. School discipline, on the other hand, refers to actions taken by school officials, and increasingly members of law enforcement, to control and manage student misbehavior within the school. These efforts often include the use of school exclusions such as in-school and out-of-school suspensions as well as school expulsions. Since the 1990s, there has been significant growth in both school discipline and school security efforts. Millions of students are suspended from school each year and schools have increasingly adopted school security measures in efforts to maintain school safety. Although studies on the efficacy of school safety efforts are somewhat mixed, research provides limited evidence that school security and discipline increase school safety. Research has, however, provided ample evidence that some school safety strategies are tied to a number of unintended consequences such as increased racial/ethnic gaps in discipline, increased criminal justice contact and school dropout, and negative longer-term outcomes. At the same time, there is growing evidence that certain types of security and disciplinary practices have potential to promote school safety.

School Security

School security measures have become a common strategy in maintaining a safe school environment. Though some research findings tend to be mixed, a variety of studies have examined the consequences of the implementation of school security measures, including its impact on perceptions of safety, inequalities, and variations by type of security.

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