Police arrests of students at Hartford-area schools are on the rise, according to a new American Civil Liberties Union report released today, a trend that disproportionately impacts children of color.

The ACLU report, entitled “Hard Lessons: School Resource Officer Programs and School-Based Arrests in Three Connecticut Towns,” also shows how the use by school districts of school resource officers who are not adequately trained and whose objectives are not clearly defined leads to the criminalization of students rather than their being educated.

“Our goal is to ensure that everyone has an equal opportunity to receive a quality education,” said Jamie Dycus, staff attorney with the ACLU Racial Justice Program and the primary author of the report. “Relying too heavily on arrests as a disciplinary measure impedes that goal and only serves to ensure that some of our most vulnerable populations are criminalized at very young ages before alternatives are exhausted that could lead to academic success.”

According to the report, students in West Hartford and East Hartford are arrested at school at a rate far out of proportion to their numbers. During the 2006-07 school year, for example, African American and Hispanic students together accounted for 69 percent of East Hartford’s student population, but experienced 85 percent of its school-based arrests. In West Hartford during the same year, African American and Hispanic students accounted for 24 percent of the population, but experienced 63 percent of the arrests.

The report also found that during the 2005-06 and 2006-07 school years in both East and West Hartford, students of color committing minor disciplinary infractions were more likely to get arrested than white students committing the very same offenses. African American students involved in physical altercations in West Hartford were twice as likely to be arrested as white students involved in similar altercations. During the same time period in East Hartford, African American and Hispanic students involved in disciplinary incidents involving drugs, alcohol or tobacco were ten times more likely to be arrested than white students involved in similar incidents.

Additionally, students in Hartford, East Hartford and West Hartford are being arrested at school at very young ages. During the 2005-06 and 2006-07 school years, 86 primary grade students were arrested at school in Hartford. A majority of those arrested were seventh or eighth graders, but 25 were in grades four through six and 13 were in grade three or below.

“Research shows that the earlier children are exposed to the criminal justice system, the more likely they are to commit crimes later in life,” Dycus said. “Relying primarily on arrests rather than other forms of behavioral intervention cements an unfortunate cycle of criminalization which, in the end, doesn’t benefit our kids and doesn’t benefit our communities.”

The report also highlights the lack of a clearly defined role and minimum training requirements for school resource officers on the campus of Hartford-area schools. The report found that officers in Hartford and West Hartford, for example, are not subject to formal written policies or agreements clearly describing their duties. Neither Hartford nor West Hartford requires special training for its school resource officers, and in all three districts data collection and reporting on the subject of school-based arrests – a critical element of any effort to monitor and evaluate school resource officer program performance – is inadequate.

The ACLU today also released a second report entitled “Dignity Denied: The Effect of ‘Zero Tolerance’ Policies on Students’ Human Rights” which analyzes the impact on the human rights of students in the New Haven Unified School District of involving the criminal justice system in school discipline policies.

A joint project of the ACLU, the ACLU of Connecticut and the Allard K. Lowenstein International Human Rights Clinic at Yale Law School, the report argues that subjecting students to the criminal justice system as a means of school discipline deprives them the right to be free from discrimination, the right to education, the right to proportionality in punishment, and the right to freedom of expression.