School Violence Inside Youth Prison Schools

School Violence Inside Youth Prison Schools

Morghan Vélez Young-Alfaro
Copyright: © 2019 |Pages: 21
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-6246-7.ch004
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School violence inside youth prisons proves challenging to explore. The diversity among incarcerated students, variation in the layout and management of youth prison schools, and the trauma caused by confinement factor into how school violence unfolds. This chapter makes four contributions to landscaping the study of school violence inside youth prison schools. First, contrary to popular stereotypes, students have offenses across a spectrum of non-violent to violent crimes. Second, classrooms in some youth prisons are the only social spaces and violence gets funneled into them. Third, school violence intervention programs used in youth prison schools must contend with the trauma-inducing aspects involved in living in a correctional setting. Fourth, public discourse misplaces attention on punitive responses outside of a complex understanding of the students, experiences inside youth prison schools, and possibilities beyond schooling behind bars. These contributions scaffold future directions in research on school violence in youth prison schools.
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This exploration of school violence inside youth prison (YP) schools offers four contributions to the study of school violence (Hirschi, 1969; Nemmetz, 2010; Snyder & Sickmund, 2006). The four contributions come to light through the course of exploring the YP school setting as well as the impact of the wider juvenile justice and institutional context that circumscribes this discussion of school violence. First, the students show that they often defy popular stereotypes of them as scary and predatory (Rios, 2006; Rios & Rodriguez, 2012) and categorically disconnected from school (Akers & Sellers, 2009; Vélez Young-Alfaro, 2017; Vélez Young-Alfaro, Phillips, & Nasir, n.d.). Second, the spatial layout and operational management of YPs increases or decreases the likelihood of violence in the classrooms. The variation among YPs and their schools state-by-state and county-by-county is a consequence of a decentralized juvenile justice system. YPs and their schools hold diverse policies and practices across the U.S.

Third, school violence prevention and intervention programming already exist in many YP schools, but not always for the explicit purpose of reducing school violence and disciplinary issues. Violence prevention and intervention curriculums – such as restorative justice programming – are often for general rehabilitation purposes brought in by community-based organizations (Spaulding, 2017; Tsui, 2014). However, even though these programs maintain proven effectiveness to reduce school violence and increase school connectedness in the community – discussed in greater length elsewhere in this book – the programs are circumscribed in the YP context by the fixation on safety, which includes locked cells, chains, and threats of violence (Shelden, 2008; Vélez Young-Alfaro, 2017). Finally, this chapter contributes to research on school violence in terms of showing descriptively the need for future research, policy reform, and practice innovations to pivot towards the conditions needed to widely reframe public discourse about who the students are in YP schools. It is important to complicate the image of students in YPs as well as their classrooms and, specifically, diminish the powerful assumption that these are categorically criminal students.

While defining school violence should not be oversimplified (Henry, 2000), in this chapter violence inside YP schools is specifically about physical altercations such as shoving, hitting, restraining, and throwing objects towards another person. This definitional approach allows for cross comparisons with diversely operated YPs (e.g. demographic, geographic, and legislative variations). That is, when students and adults engage in violent altercations, the events are expected to be recorded in the formal documentation of each facility. Typically, these documents are part of the requirement for reporting to public oversight bodies. Hence, the discussion in this chapter relies on an understanding of YP school violence based on such reporting. Additionally, when school violence and violence outside of the school day take place, the violence happens within the security context of the total institution (Bickle, 2010; Flores, 2013; Goffman, 1961). That is, often, but certainly not always (Vélez Young-Alfaro, 2017), violence is responded to with immediate physical restraint by adults.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Juvenile Correctional Education: The study of practices and policies for delivering school programs inside youth prisons.

Institutional Violence: Violence that unfolds in relation to the persons and activities within a specific institution, including violence from custodial authorities such as correctional officers and symbolic violence such as isolation and restriction to developmental resources.

Youth Prison: A closed facility for the purposes of incarcerating minors who are undergoing or already completed a juvenile court adjudication process.

Incarcerated Student: A minor who attends school inside a youth prison school or cell.

Youth Violence: Peer-to-peer physical, verbal, and symbolic attack by minors with the use of the diverse methods, including, but not limited, to the body, conventional weaponry, and technologies.

Status Offense: An age-based offense, this term refers to charges in the juvenile court that do not apply to persons 18-years or older and include, but are not limited to, curfew violations and incorrigibility.

Juvenile Incarceration: The practice, policies, and structures involved in imprisoning minors, affording minimum standards for treatment and monitoring.

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