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Senator Proposes Zero Tolerance Changes
Tuesday, 08 December 2009
December 8--  Sen. Emanuel Jones (D-Decatur) in a press conference Monday at the State Capitol announced legislation that will limit the abuse of zero-tolerance discipline policies in schools.  He prefiled the bill in preparation for the 2010 Legislative Session, which begins January 11. 

 “Schools are not exercising enough discretion when their students commit minor infractions,” Jones said.  “In most cases, these offenses don’t warrant the harsh punishment of ripping a child from their home and school life just to sit in jail and await a hearing.  Creating such a clear pathway from school to jail serves only to railroad these kids into a life of crime.”

 Zero-tolerance policies automatically impose harsh punishments without consideration of the circumstances.  Under these policies, students have been expelled for bringing nail clippers or scissors to school.  Under existing Georgia law, students can be sent directly to jail before receiving a hearing.   Jones’ legislation will require judges to hold a hearing before a student can be taken into custody.

To introduce the bill, Jones was joined by 14-year-old Eli Mohone of Morgan County, who recently was sent directly to jail before receiving a hearing for a minor infraction.  Jones attended Mohone’s hearing and worked with local officials to see that he was released the following day.  Upon seeing this and other cases across the state where children are immediately put in jail, Jones crafted this legislation to close the loophole in Georgia law.  

The growing use of zero-tolerance policies has been dubbed the “school to prison pipeline,” for the number of students who slip from the school system into continuous criminal activity.  The number of children who are suspended has greatly increased over the years, from 1.7 million in 1974 to 3.1 million in 2000.  A review of zero tolerance policies by the American Psychological Association revealed that “one-size-fits-all punishment” actually increases bad behavior and leads to higher drop out rates. 

“The frequent misuse of zero tolerance policies equals zero common sense,” added Jones.  “Excessively harsh disciplinary policies create a huge barrier to education and can cause students to fall behind in coursework or give up on school altogether.”

In addition to ensuring juveniles receive a hearing before taking them into custody, Jones will work to spearhead the collaboration between the legislature, schools, social services, mental health providers, law enforcement and juvenile justice authorities to develop effective disciplinary policies for Georgia’s schools.         

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