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Journal Article


Toby J. Public Interest 1980; 58: 18-42.


(Copyright © 1980, National Affairs)






VioLit summary:

The aim of this study by Toby was two-fold. First, past reports on crime in public schools were reviewed and examined. Second, recommendations were made for implementing effective school intervention programs.

The author employed a non-experimental design in which past research into the incidence of crime in public schools was reviewed.

The author began by outlining the findings of a 1978 congressional study on violence in American Public Schools. The difference in crime rates between urban, suburban and rural schools was not as great as expected. Both students and teachers reported being victims of robberies and assaults. The annual cost to schools as a result of trespassing, breaking and entering, theft of school property and vandalism was approximately $200 million. Most of the offenders were not from the outside community but rather students themselves. Victims of robberies were roughly the same age as their robber. Although the findings suggested that schools which had student populations which were overwhelmingly from minority backgrounds had higher crime rates than predominately white schools, the data failed to explain this finding. The report provided impressions about perpetrators of school crime based on its extensive field study data. Violence against other students normally occurred during classes rather than at other times. The report also found that males, in addition to younger students and younger, less-experienced teachers, were more often the victims of assaults and/or robberies. Finally, the report offered recommendations based on the responses of students, teachers and principals to requests for suggestions on how to control school crime. Overall, the author found the report to be more descriptive than explanatory of the situation in public schools.
Next the author discussed how the less orderly school environment developed. An initial factor was the historical separation of the student from the community as schools grew larger. This had the effect of making the school independent of the local community and consequently students developed their own unique subcultures. When school crime became a problem, school administrators were unprepared to handle it due to the detached role of parents, logistical restraints on control and reluctance to employ outside disciplinary procedures. Another dimension to the problem was a growing tension between a general trend towards keeping children in school longer and the students desire to terminate their studies. Additionally, an increase in children's rights meant that principals no longer had the power to rule autocratically. The juvenile courts became more attentive to children's rights and less willing to support school's efforts to imprison delinquent students. Finally, the role and authority of the teacher declined such that it can no longer be used to maintain control.
The author suggested that school crime has had a degenerating effect on the overall quality of public education for several reasons. School crime has tended to reduce the commitment of students and teachers to the educational process. Parents have tried to ameliorate the situation by either becoming directly involved in their child's education or else transferring him/her to a different school. In addition, this process of deterioration has had the effect of transforming the role of the public school in underprivileged urban neighborhoods from a means of escape and source of opportunity to a veritable trap. In response to this dilemma, the author cited an assessment by the Children's Defense Fund (CDF). In its report, the CDF proposed that schools arouse frustration and resentment in their students by arbitrary and sometimes racist policies by school officials. This report led to a 1975 senate subcommittee investigation which found a "crisis of due process" (p. 34) in public schools which incites students to violence. The author, however, found the above reports flawed in their causal claims and countered that public schools don't arouse violence in students, but rather, that school crime reduces the effectiveness of public education.

The author suggested that attempts to reduce school crime must incorporate greater parental involvement. Besides their influence in the home, the inclusion of parents in the education process as teacher aides might have the effect of bridging the gap between the local school and its community. Additionally, the involvement of the peer group might also have the effect of reducing school crime. Overall, formal controls should be employed only as a last resort, only after informal controls have failed to keep students from committing crime. The author also recommended that some school crimes (victimless) are not serious as others (violent) and consequently should not be a priority given the limited resources with which to work. The author reemphasized the need for greater control in the schools and a renewal ability of school officials to expel disruptive students more freely. Finally, milder sanctions against misbehavior, modeled after coerced community service programs in New Zealand, might prove effective coupled with rewards for good behavior.

The author presents a thoughtful assessment of crime in public schools and offers interesting suggestions addressing the problem. However, the author's failure to cite the sources for many of his claims has the effect of devaluating the legitimacy of his arguments. Nevertheless, the detailed analysis of both the historical antecedents as well as contemporary obstacles to addressing school crime provide valuable insights for future research and policy considerations. (CSPV Abstract - Copyright © 1992-2007 by the Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence, Institute of Behavioral Science, Regents of the University of Colorado)

KW - School Crime
KW - School Violence
KW - School Based
KW - Intervention Program
KW - Crime Intervention
KW - Violence Intervention
KW - Intervention Recommendations
KW - Juvenile Crime
KW - Juvenile Offender
KW - Juvenile Violence
KW - Student Crime
KW - Student Violence
KW - Program Effectiveness
KW - Program Implementation
KW - Crime Rates
KW - Crime Incidence and Prevalence
KW - Violence Rates
KW - Violence Incidence and Prevalence


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