New Bronx School Program Gives Students 'Warning' For Pot In Lieu Of Court Dates

By Victoria Kim 06/07/16

Under the warning card system, students would face administrative consequences but wouldn't have to enter the criminal justice system for "minor mistakes."

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New Bronx School Program Gives Students 'Warning' For Pot In Lieu Of Court Dates

A new pilot program that replaces court summonses for misbehavior with "warning cards" is part of a nationwide movement to cut off the school-to-prison pipeline. 

A recent report by VICE highlighted the successes of the Warning Card Pilot Program, which has so far been implemented in five high school campuses across the Bronx in New York City. 

The program was a result of parental activism—a collaboration between the New Settlement Parent Action Committee, school safety officials, and the city's Department of Education (DOE). A disproportionate share of court summonses are given by NYPD School Safety Agents (SSAs) in Bronx schools compared to the rest of the city, according to VICE. In 2012 alone, nearly 700 court summonses were handed to Bronx students—many of whom are students of color. 

"The young people in our public schools are students, not criminals," Bronx parent Ronnette Summers wrote in City Limits. "When we hand them court summonses, however, we send them the opposite message. A court summons tells a young person: you belong in the prison system, not in school."

Under the warning card system, students are given a warning card for pot possession or disorderly conduct instead of receiving a summons and having to appear before a judge. They still face administrative consequences, like suspensions, but won't have to come in contact with the criminal justice system for "minor mistakes that teenagers being teenagers will make," said Herman Guy, principal of Millennium Art Academy. Guy said he was skeptical of the pilot program at first, but changed his tune after seeing it in action. "In many cases, [the warning card] is enough to turn the student around," he told VICE.

The results, though coming from a small sample size, are promising. In the last three months of 2015, the number of court summonses given in Bronx schools declined by 60%, compared to the same three-month period in 2012. And according to Mark Rampersant, head of the DOE Office of Safety and Youth Development, so far only one student had to receive more than one warning card over the last school year. Rampersant said the city is hoping to expand the program next year.

According to Anne Gregory, an associate professor at Rutgers University who studies school environments, such initiatives are part of a nationwide movement to "transform the SSA's role and have them be more focused on safety related incidents and not minor behavior."

That's good news, considering the growing trend in the United States of criminalizing children and ushering them into the school-to-prison pipeline at a young age—fueled by zero-tolerance policies, increased police presence in schools, and harsh punishments for minor disciplinary infractions.

The U.S. has the highest incarceration rate in the world—with about 2.2 million people behind bars—fueled in large part by former President Nixon's declaration of a War on Drugs in the '70s. By allowing students to avoid the criminal system for minor drug offenses like possession, initiatives like the Warning Card Program has the potential to turn the tide.

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Victoria is interested in anything that has to do with how mind-altering substances impact society. Find Victoria on LinkedIn or Tumblr