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Racial Threat and Punitive School Discipline

Kelly Welch and Allison Ann Payne
Social Problems
Vol. 57, No. 1 (February 2010), pp. 25-48
DOI: 10.1525/sp.2010.57.1.25
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Page Count: 24
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Racial Threat and Punitive School Discipline
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Tests of the racial threat hypothesis, linking the racial composition of place to various measures of social control, find that where there are greater percentages of blacks, more punitive criminal justice policies are implemented. Just as the criminal justice system continues to get tougher on crime despite stagnant crime rates, it is also clear that schools are becoming harsher toward student misbehavior and delinquency despite decreases in these school-based occurrences. However, only a very limited number of studies have been able to partially explain this trend of intensifying social control in schools. Using a national sample of 294 public schools, the present study is the first to test the racial threat hypothesis within schools to determine if the racial composition of students predicts greater use of punitive controls, regardless of levels of misbehavior and delinquency. Results of multivariate analyses support the racial threat perspective, finding that schools with a larger percentage of black students are not only more likely to use punitive disciplinary responses, but also more likely to use extremely punitive discipline and to implement zero tolerance policies. They also use fewer mild disciplinary practices and restitutive techniques. In addition, racial threat is more influential when school delinquency and disorder are lower.

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