Clayton County, GA

Clayton County, GA

Mission and Goals

Mission

Judge Steven Teske, a juvenile court judge in Clayton County, Ga, began to observe and learn that referrals to law enforcement skyrocketed as soon as school resource officers were stationed at local schools. In fact, in the mid to late nineties, there were only 89 referrals per year, but in 2004, after the placement of these officers, referrals increased to 1,400. Also, Judge Teske found that those students who became involved with the court system were more likely to recidivate, or commit another crime at a later point, than those who were disciplined more informally or were enrolled in a diversion program instead. He also found that zero tolerance was widely used throughout county schools despite the fact that there was little to no evidence of its effectiveness. After speaking with parents and other citizens, Judge Teske learned that they too were concerned and were willing to support any other efforts he undertook to reverse these statistics. Therefore, he decided to take action.

Goals

In the summer of 2004, members of the juvenile justice system, law enforcement, the local school system, and social services groups teamed up to draft a cooperative agreement aimed at limiting the overall number of school referrals to juvenile court and reducing the disproportionate contact students of color have with school discipline and the juvenile justice system. This effort was spearheaded by Judge Steven Teske, a juvenile court judge in Clayton County, Georgia.

Wins

In 2004, a cooperative agreement was developed. It ensures that “misdemeanor delinquent acts,” like fighting, disrupting the public school, disorderly conduct, most obstruction of police, and most criminal trespass, do not result in the filing of a complaint unless the student commits a third or subsequent similar offense during the school year, and the principal conducts a review of the student’s behavior plan. Youth first receive warnings and after a second offense, they are referred to mediation or school conflict training programs. Elementary students cannot be referred to law enforcement for “misdemeanor delinquent acts” at all. 

The presence of dangerous weapons on campuses has decreased by 70%.

Police officers’ relationships with students have improved, allowing students to converse more comfortably with the officers and be more willing to provide critical information on serious school crimes when necessary.

87% decrease in fighting offenses and a 36% decrease among other “Focus Acts,” which includes disorderly conduct, obstruction of an officer, and disrupting a public school.

86% and 64% decrease in referrals for fighting and disruption of public school offenses, respectively, specifically for African American youth. 

Graduation rates have increased by 20% since the protocol was implemented.

Before the agreement was even signed, the collaborative group mandated cross-training be provided to law enforcement, counselors, school staff, and juvenile intake officials to ensure understanding of how to use the agreement.

Strategy

Tactics

Identify key stakeholders, including school officials, juvenile court officials, prosecutors, public defenders, law enforcement members, and other citizens, to get their input

Identify a neutral moderator to lead the group and develop principles and guidelines for drafting the agreement

Review quantitative data over time

Educate stakeholders on best practices

Challenges and Lessons Learned

Gathering input from a variety of stakeholders and reviewing quantitative data over time is essential to success.

Efforts that are spearheaded by a neutral party, like a judge, might have a better chance of success, as such a person is better able to facilitate conversations and others might be more motivated to fix the problem.

Timeline

2003-2004- Judge Teske begins to talk to the community, including with members of local churches and civic groups, about the crisis he is witnessing in his courtroom

Spring 2004- group convened

Summer 2004 –the group begins to draft the agreement

Late 2004-agreement finished

Tools 

The Cooperative Agreement
Blue Ribbon Commission on School Discipline Report
 

Contact and Acknowledgements

Steven Teske‚Ä®
Judge
Juvenile Court of Clayton County
Georgia Clayton County Courthouse
Annex 3 121 S. McDonough Street
Third Floor Jonesboro, GA 30236
T: 770-477-3260 
Steve.teske@co.clayton.ga.us