Monday, May 12, 2008

Electronic Monitoring and the "Cream Puff" Factor

Students of both delinquency and punishment may remember our discussion on Electronic Monitoring (EM) and the so-called "Cream Puff" factor. While EM was designed for the most serious types of probationers and parolees as an alternative to incarceration, research has shown that the most successful EM programs are usually those with the least serious (hence "cream puffs") criminals under their aegis.

Here's another example of placing more and more "cream puffs" under EM and calling it a success. And from an educational viewpoint, the fact that the No Child Left Behind Act is a motivating factor is hardly a surprise.

To Curb Truancy, Dallas Tries Electronic Monitoring:

Educators are struggling to meet stricter state and federal mandates, including those of the No Child Left Behind Act, on attendance and graduation rates. The Dallas school system, which, like other large districts, has found it difficult to manage the large numbers of truant students, is among the first in the nation to experiment with the electronic monitoring.

“Ten years ago the issue of truancy just slid by,” said Jay Smink, executive director of the National Dropout Prevention Center. “Now the regulations are forcing them to adhere to the policies.”

Nearly one-third of American students drop out of school, and Dallas has the seventh-worst graduation rate among large school districts, according to a study released in April by America’s Promise Alliance, founded by Colin L. Powell, the former secretary of state.
So placing truants under Electronic Monitoring is going to solve the problem?
Truancy experts say the results in Texas are promising.

“It’s far better than locking a kid up,” and is cheaper, said Joanna Heilbrunn, a senior researcher for the National Center for School Engagement.

I don't think anyone would disagree with that, but since when did it ever make sense to take a child who doesn't want to go to school and punish them by telling them they can't go to school?

This sounds more like another example of the Net-Widening Effect of alternatives to incarceration. Taking a child who shouldn't be locked up to begin with and placing them under an "alternative" such as EM hardly qualifies as a "success". It may be just another way of casting the net further and pulling more and more people who don't belong there into the Correctional-Industrial Complex.

Meanwhile, the reasons why one-third of American school children are dropping out become ancillary, and panacea measures such as EM for truants brings us no closer to understanding or preventing truancy.

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