OUR CORNER: The old system just doesn’t work

Think back, for a moment, to when you were 16. This may be a distant memory for some, but more likely than not, you probably can’t forget it. If you’re like most 16-year-olds, there’s a good chance you were getting into some kind of trouble.

On Dec. 13, Bonney Lake High School police liaison Officer Daron P. Wolschleger arrived on campus to encounter such a 16-year old, who had confessed to smoking marijuana after being removed from class when a teacher suspected him of being under the influence.

This particular case occurred at Bonney Lake High, but could just as well have happened on a campus in Enumclaw, Buckley or Sumner. Any high school, anywhere.

Upon arrival, Wolschleger was presented with paraphernalia previously discovered by a campus safety officer after he was permitted to search the boy’s car. Of the items found, most notable was a red apple “altered to use as a smoking device.” The boy admitted they were his and that he had been arrested for the same thing one year prior. According to the police report, he was “immediately emergency expelled,” certainly to be followed by prosecution and additional scholastic consequences. For such a petty – almost stereotypical – activity, how can this possibly rehabilitate the boy towards a brighter academic future?

Several major United States medical associations and numerous international university studies have conclusively determined that treating most drug problems as medical in nature, rather than criminal, is exponentially more effective than incarceration. As this is not the first time this boy has been caught for a similar offense, why would arresting him a second time produce different results? If a policy of zero tolerance supposedly prevents certain behaviors, it should tangibly reflect that. It is logical to ask, then, what are the results? Clearly, on a fundamental level, the policy does not work. In this particular case, many decidedly negative consequences are readily apparent. Not only will the boy miss even more school and the stigma of expulsion, but he will now face charges that will likely follow him around for the rest of his life in one form or another.

The “crime and punishment” mentality of zero tolerance policies assumes that societal change can be accomplished by the punishment of individuals who breach social contracts. The problem with this mindset, however, is that when the only tool in your toolbox is a hammer, everything begins to look like a nail. By solely focusing on punishing students, zero tolerance fails to address the root causes of the problems which cause them to act out in the first place. For the aforementioned student at Bonney Lake High School, the system has failed him twice now and he is clearly not getting sufficient treatment and counseling necessary for him to appropriately deal with his problems. We live in the 21st century, and should thusly be utilizing all the best, contemporary knowledge available from modern science. Working together with his parents, teachers, counselors and peers, it is possible to create a positive outcome for this boy – rather than repeatedly trying the same tired methods we’ve been using since the Dark Ages.

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