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Children in the courts: child arrests

June 15, 2022

By Alyssa Nekritz

Each state, locality and district have different standards when it comes to school police presence and punishments. “Federal crime reports have identified more than 2,600 arrests in schools involving kids ages five to nine between 2010 and 2019.” According to ABC News, 30,467 children under 10 were arrested in the U.S. from 2013 to 2018. This level of policing has been shown to contribute to what former Texas Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson described a decade ago as the school-to-prison pipeline, traumatizing children and destroying healthy student attachment to schools, teachers and education.

In Illinois, school systems use a provision within Illinois law that allows school officials to refer students to the police. The police are then able to ticket students for in-school behaviors that would not be considered a serious offense in any courtroom according to an April 2022 report by ProPublica. That same report included a database to look up ticketing numbers in specific districts and found that tickets were disproportionately issued to Black students.

In Florida, the Kaia Rolle Act passed in July 2021 after negative media attention about how much Kaia’s personality had changed since her in-school handcuffed arrest at seven years old. The law states no one under the age of seven is allowed to be “arrested, charged or adjudicated” unless they have committed a forcible felony. This is one example of police arresting young children that is fueling a push among juvenile justice advocates to raise the minimum arrest age.

The Sentencing Project studied statewide punishments for juveniles. Note the gray states outlined in the graphic allow for juveniles to be sentenced to life without parole. North Carolina requires a child to be only six years old for prosecution. Law professors and health sciences professors alike assert that children are unable to grasp the impact of court proceedings and their individual rights. The U.S. Supreme Court has also established the precedent that children are not legally or developmentally the same as adults.

In 1966, U.S. Supreme Court Case Kent v. U.S. stated that a minor could be tried as an adult only when considering the punishment and other factors. In 2005, the Supreme Court abolished the death penalty for juveniles as a violation of the Eighth Amendment.

See NCSC’s statistics and facts about the school-to-prison pipeline and the juvenile courts website for more information.

How does your district handle student punishment? How often do those students interact with the court system? Share your experiences with us at or call 800-616-6164.

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