GIBSONVILLE — North Carolina Supreme Court Chief Justice Cheri Beasley led a press conference via Facebook Live last week announcing the rollout of the School Justice Partnership’s (SJP) Toolkit.
The School-Justice Partnership (SJP) is an initiative managed by the North Carolina Judicial Branch’s Administrative Office of the Courts whose goal is to reduce the number of juvenile referrals to the court system through collaboration by school resource officers, school officials and representatives of the courts.
“Our courts must be focused on helping our young people be successful. School Justice Partnerships are one of the most important investments in that success we can make,” said Beasley.
SJP efforts are being spurred along by the new “raise the age” law, which goes into effect on Dec. 1. The law will allow juvenile court delinquency cases to include 16- and 17-year-olds.
The SJP is currently in use in 35 counties, but the program is seeking to expand to all of the state’s 100 counties.
“It makes sense that when we’re able to divert cases out of the juvenile court or make it such that young people can have support through their schools and with law enforcement that we try to implement those programs,” Beasley said.
Beasley said that research shows that when a student is referred to the juvenile justice system, they are less likely to finish high school, more likely to repeat a grade and will be more likely to be charged with criminal offenses as an adult.
Roughly 40% of all juvenile justice complaints in North Carolina originate in schools and most referrals are for non-violent offenses.
Gov. Roy Cooper and officials from multiple law enforcement agencies, state and county education leaders and district attorneys joined Beasley at the event.
Judge Elizabeth Trosch, district court, Mecklenburg County, Dr. Sharon L. Contreras, superintendent, Guilford County Schools, and Brunswick County Sheriff John W. Ingram V, president, North Carolina Sheriffs’ Association all offered prepared remarks.
“Our communities must engage with kids to help keep them in school and out of jail,” Cooper said. “The Toolkit planned by the Judicial Branch can help build positive partnerships and I have directed the Juvenile Justice Section of the Department of Public Safety to help with implementing School Justice Partnerships across North Carolina.”
The 96-page long SJP toolkit offers a 10-step guide to implementing a program in a school, county or district. The toolkit also offers guidance on which offenses may qualify for minor punishments such as suspensions or remediation through “restorative justice circles.”
Of the report, 37 pages were content-related. The remainder includes appendices containing data, an example of a Memorandum of Understanding or MOU and a “graduated response model” that suggests only “weapons, drugs, battery, and communicating threats” should see referrals to the justice system or courts.
Student perpetrators involved in referrals were extensively covered at the press conference. NSJ asked Sharon Gladwell, communications director for the NC Judicial Branch, about the rights of the victims of such student attacks.
Gladwell said that one of the core principles for SJP’s is that “Most student misconduct is best addressed through classroom, in-school, family, and community support strategies, and by maintaining a positive climate within the school rather than involvement of the justice system.”
“SJP’s do not negate the rights of a victim,” said Gladwell. “The Model SJP MOU expressly provides that the SJP shall not inhibit, discourage, or prevent individual victims of student misconduct from initiating criminal or juvenile charges against students nor shall it affect the prosecution of such charges.”
Gladwell was asked about parental involvement, which is only mentioned nine times in the SJP toolkit.
“The Toolkit identifies parents as being essential members of the SJP team, as they have a vested interest in how school discipline is administered for their children. The Toolkit also recommends parent contact as an appropriate intervention for minor school-based misconduct, rather than arrest and court referral,” Gladwell said.