Juvenile Justice

Published — February 24, 2012 Updated — May 19, 2014 at 12:19 pm ET

New York: Police data shows excessive student arrests — especially for minorities, rights groups say

Additionally, a chief judge seeks judicial reform for 16- and 17-year-olds


New York City police data released this month shows that officers arrested about five students per day last fall, and ticketed about nine. That’s excessive, and a sign that too many students, especially ethnic minority males, are getting pulled into the criminal justice system, civil rights groups are saying.

A disproportionate number of the 279 students arrested between Oct. 1 and Dec. 31 were black or Latino, and “disorderly conduct” accounted for 63 percent of the 532 court summons officers issued during this period, according to an analysis of the data by the New York office of the American Civil Liberties Union.

About 20 percent of students arrested were between 11 and 14 years old.

Police in New York are required under a new city law to release this type of data. The requirement stems from concerns that law enforcement has become too involved in school discipline in New York’s public school system, which serves 1.1 million students. This is the first quarterly release of data from a period when school was fully in session.

In response to the findings, New York ACLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman called on authorities to commission an independent audit of the incidents “to assess whether these situations would be better handled by educators. And to find out what the impact has been on children who misbehaved and, as a result, were sent into the criminal justice system.”

New York Police Department Deputy Commissioner Brown Browne responded to the data with a statement that credited officers, some of whom are based in schools, with helping cut the number of felonies committed in schools from 1,577 in 2001 to 801 last year. The ACLU, he said, “talks about arrests in schools but, conveniently, not crimes.”

Meanwhile, the Empire State’s chief judge is shaking things up with a strong message to stop trying 16- and 17-year-olds as adults for alleged non-violent crimes.

Each year, 50,000 youths of these ages are arrested and prosecuted in New York’s criminal courts, “overwhelmingly” for allegations of minor crimes, Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman noted in his State of the Judiciary 2012 address this month.

New York is one of just two states — the other is North Carolina — that prosecute 16- and 17-year-olds as adults. If Lippman gets his way, New York’s legislature will change that. He plans to send lawmakers a proposal this year to create a new “Youth Court” for youths of these ages to face allegations of non-violent crimes.

“Study after study has confirmed that older adolescents who are prosecuted and convicted in criminal courts are more likely to re-offend, re-offend sooner, and go on to commit serious crimes at a higher rate than youths who go through the family court system,” Lippman said in his message. “Prosecuting adolescents charged with non-violent conduct in the criminal courts does not improve public safety or the quality of life in our communities.”

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