Criminalizing Kids

Published — April 25, 2017

Center wins Edward R. Murrow Regional Award

Documentary collaboration with Retro Report focused on police in schools


The Center for Public Integrity has won an Edward R. Murrow Regional Award for its collaboration with Retro Report on a documentary about deployment of police in schools.

The 12-minute piece, “Unraveling Zero Tolerance,” examines the roots and evolution of using police in schools, and the controversial consequences. Touted as critical to fending off school shootings, drug dealers and disorder, zero tolerance policies morphed over time into a blizzard of student suspensions and arrests for minor indiscretions, many of them involving manhandling of kids by over-aggressive cops. Now some are wondering whether the zero tolerance ‘solution’ is turning out to be worse than the problem it was designed to address.

Retro Report is a nonprofit documentary project that looks back at major news events or controversies through the lens of history, examining how legislative or societal reactions played out after the headlines faded.

The Center’s work on “Unraveling Zero Tolerance” was done by reporter Susan Ferriss, who has investigated harsh school discipline policies and school policing extensively.

In 2011, Ferriss looked at suspensions and expulsions of students amid broader concerns that children were being criminalized and pushed into a “school-to-prison pipeline.”  In 2012,  her stories probed school policing in Los Angeles, where the nation’s biggest school police force was issuing thousands of court citations to mostly Latino and black kids in low-income schools.

In 2013, Ferriss documented how students in rural California were expelled from regular school for disciplinary reasons — sometimes with police involvement — and forced to enroll in alternative schools so far away they had no alternative but home study. And in 2015, she investigated national school-policing data showing that Virginia led in student-police contact that disproportionately affected students with disabilities, and those who were black or Latino.

The Murrow Awards have been given since 1971 by the Radio Television Digital News Association, and are designed to honor outstanding achievements in electronic journalism.   

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