As zero-tolerance discipline policies have been instituted at high schools across the country, police officers are employed with increasing frequency to enforce behavior codes and maintain order, primarily at poorly performing, racially segregated urban schools. Actions that may once have sent students to the detention hall or resulted in their suspension may now introduce them to the criminal justice system. In Police in the Hallways, Kathleen Nolan explores the impact of policing and punitive disciplinary policies on the students and their educational experience.
Through in-depth interviews with and observations of students, teachers, administrators, and police officers, Nolan offers a rich and nuanced account of daily life at a Bronx high school where police patrol the hallways and security and discipline fall under the jurisdiction of the NYPD. She documents how, as law enforcement officials initiate confrontations with students, small infractions often escalate into “police matters” that can lead to summonses to criminal court, arrest, and confinement in juvenile detention centers.
Nolan follows students from the classroom and the cafeteria to the detention hall, the dean’s office, and the criminal court system, clarifying the increasingly intimate relations between the school and the criminal justice system. Placing this trend within the context of recent social and economic changes, as well as developments within criminal justice and urban school reform, she shows how this police presence has created a culture of control in which penal management overshadows educational innovation.
Police in the Hallways also examines the prevalent forms of oppositional behavior through which students express their frustrations and their deep sense of exclusion. With compassion and clear-eyed analysis, Nolan sounds a warning about this alarming convergence of prison and school cultures and the negative impact that it has on the real lives of low-income students of color—and, in turn, on us all.