, Press Release

Wayne County Launches School Justice Partnership for Students

Program to focus on keeping kids in school and out of court.

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Wayne County community leaders joined today for a signing ceremony to announce the launch of the School Justice Partnership (SJP). The SJP, identified as the Partnership Agreement Community Teams with Schools (P.A.C.T.S.), aims to keep kids in school and out of court by reducing law enforcement involvement in minor misconduct at schools.

Chief District Court Judge R. Les Turner and Judge Ericka James, as well as other leaders from the Judicial Branch, joined community leaders including Wayne County Sheriff Larry Pierce, Goldsboro Chief of Police Mike West, Wayne County School Superintendent Michael Dunsmore, Ph.D., and Wayne County School Board Chair Patricia Burden.

Wanye County SJP Ceremony
Greene and Lenoir County leaders launch SJP

"This School Justice Partnership Agreement is the result of a collaboration among key stakeholders who recognize the need to respond to school discipline with swift appropriate action, while also avoiding the unintended consequence of saddling kids with permanent criminal records for minor student misconduct," said Judge James.

Additionally, Chief Judge Turner recently signed partnerships in both Greene and Lenoir counties in March. Both signing ceremonies took place during a meeting hosted by officials from the N.C. Department of Public Safety Division of Adult Correction and Juvenile Justice to help local stakeholders prepare for the implementation of “Raise the Age” legislation, which will increase the maximum age of juvenile court jurisdiction from 16 to 18. The legislation, which becomes effective December 1, 2019, authorizes the development of SJPs in each county with a goal of reducing in-school arrests, suspensions, and expulsions. Juvenile Justice Deputy Secretary Billy Lassiter and his staff plan to hold stakeholder forums throughout the State to educate local stakeholders about the new law and help them plan for its implementation.

A primary goal of the SJP is to reduce the number of children referred to the juvenile justice system. The SJP is a group of community stakeholders—including school administrators, the law enforcement community, court system actors, juvenile justice personnel, and others—that will develop and implement effective strategies to address student misconduct. Currently, many students are suspended, expelled, and referred to court for minor misconduct which produces harmful outcomes for youth and their communities. Students who are suspended and expelled are more likely to repeat a grade, drop out of school, and engage in higher levels of disruptive behavior. A single suspension also triples the likelihood that a student will enter the juvenile justice system. These negative outcomes disproportionately impact certain students, including youth of color and students with disabilities, who are more likely to be suspended, expelled, and referred to court than their peers.

Existing SJPs have produced better outcomes for students. Judge Steven Teske’s program in Clayton County, Georgia, known as the “Clayton County School Referral Reduction Protocol,” resulted in a 67.4 percent decrease in referrals to juvenile court, a 43 percent decrease in referrals of youth of color to juvenile court, and a 24 percent increase in graduation rates. Similar programs in Texas and Connecticut also have experienced positive results. In North Carolina, New Hanover County’s SJP resulted in a 47 percent decrease in referrals to the juvenile justice system in its first year. The Greene and Lenoir counties' SJP hopes to produce similar outcomes for youth in this community.

The School Justice Partnership is a group of community stakeholders who work together to establish specific guidelines for school discipline in a way that minimizes suspensions, expulsions, and school-based referrals to court for minor misconduct. The main goal of the SJP is to keep kids in school and out of court for routine misconduct at school. SJPs are being developed throughout North Carolina as a result of the state’s recently enacted Raise the Age law.