Photo from Library of Congress via Jacobin.
Photo from Library of Congress via Jacobin.

1. What led you to do this research?

Schools criminalize behavior problems through punishments that mirror sanctions in the criminal justice system, including suspension, expulsion, or arrest. At the same time, schools medicalize misbehavior through the implementation of federally mandated individualized behavior plans. I am interested in studying whether and why schools or districts are more likely to implement criminalized or medicalized strategies for controlling misbehavior.

2. What should everybody know about what you found?

I studied two criminalized (suspension/expulsion and arrest) and two medicalized (Section 504 and IDEA) outcomes. Schools and districts with relatively larger African-American populations had higher rates of criminalization and lower rates of medicalization. Importantly, the relationship between the size of the school-level African-American population and discipline varies across different concentrations of district-level disadvantage. The positive relationship between school-level racial composition and criminalized school discipline is less pronounced in high-disadvantage districts. While the negative relationship between school-level racial composition and IDEA is more pronounced in low-disadvantage districts, the negative relationship between racial composition and enrollment in Section 504 plans is more pronounced in high-disadvantage districts. Policymakers and scholars need to consider how schools and districts may be using their resources to implement fundamentally different school disciplinary environments.

3. What are you going to do next on this topic?

I am currently using individual-level data to test for racial disparities in criminalization versus medicalization in a nationally-representative sample of children. Additionally, I am studying short- and long-term consequences of punishment and medicalization. Overall, I want to know whether medicalization may provide a “better” means of addressing problem behavior than punishment and, if so, does this help contribute to racial disparities later in the life-course.

You can read the full article here:

David M. Ramey. (2015). The Social Structure of Criminalized and Medicalized School Discipline. Sociology of Education, 0038040715587114.