Most stakeholders and policy decisions focus on the best interests of young people, attaining the objectives through promotion of effective learning, education accomplishments, rehabilitation, and avoidance of criminological behaviors, among others. Nonetheless, state and federal legislation was enacted throughout the 1990s and early 2000s that increased punitive outcomes for many adolescents, including trying more adolescents as adults, expanding the severity of penalties, and minimizing rehabilitative alternatives. In tandem with the philosophy of many juvenile justice system detention and incarceration facilities during the 1990s, it was believed that increased school discipline and zero-tolerance policies would have a deterrent effect on students and improve behaviors. New punitive state laws shifted decision making from the judges to the prosecutors for many adolescents, avoiding cases or mitigating evidentiary reviews. The dismantling of the parens patriae approach within the juvenile courts continued and, in some areas, expanded the extensive use of institutional control.
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This chapter explains that established zero-tolerance policies within school districts and the regiment of disciplinary actions within schools have an inequitable and unfair impact on certain students, not only on minority and/or lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender, LGBT adolescents. Many of these children and adolescents are already vulnerable and at risk for difficulties because of certain individual, family, or community-based characteristics, experiences, or harms. Maltreatment victimization neglect, physical abuse, and sexual abuse has a wide range of harmful outcomes and increases the risk for further problems. There are also disproportionate impacts on youthful offenders of color who are involved with the juvenile courts. Adolescents of color are overrepresented at each decision-making point within the juvenile justice system, from arrest to charges to disposition, with the greatest disparities the further a youthful offender penetrates the system. This problem is known as disproportionate minority contact.