Placing the Criminalization of School Discipline in Economic Context

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Punishment and Society






The topic of school discipline and punishment has received growing attention. Much of this work explores the rise of exclusion-based policies, increasingly punitive practices, and a buildup of security in schools. Explanations for this often focus on large-scale incidents, the perpetuation of social inequalities, students’ perceived racial/ethnic threat, and shifts in modern governance. Little work, however, has considered the financial aspects influencing schools to adopt criminal justice-based disciplinary practices. This article expands the literature by offering a multilevel investigation that contextualizes a “criminalized school discipline” within economic conditions over the last 30 years. In particular, this article delineates how four economic trends have influenced this trend. These include changes within the postindustrial labor market, federal incentives and markets prioritizing greater school security, tightening financial resources amid budget cuts, and the criminalization of the youth consumer economy. Though prior explanations lend noteworthy explanations for the rise of a punitive disciplinary code in schools, they overlook important economic effects. Investigating these financials conditions will help unpack the complex nature of school discipline while uncovering noteworthy policy implications for how youth are reacted to and punished.