Panel Paper: Impacts of State-Level School Corporal Punishment Bans On Change in Juvenile Crime

Thursday, November 7, 2013 : 11:50 AM
DuPont Ballroom G (Washington Marriott)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Elizabeth T. Gershoff1, Igor Holas1 and Kelly Purtell2, (1)University of Texas, Austin, (2)University of Texas
The right of states to allow corporal punishment of children in public schools was upheld by the Supreme Court in a 1977 decision (Ingraham v. Wright), at which time 48 states allowed corporal punishment in public schools. Since then, there has been a dramatic shift away from school corporal punishment by states, such that, in 2013, only 19 states continue to allow it. However, a significant number of children still experience school corporal punishment (223,190 per year according to the Office for Civil Rights in the U.S. Department of Education).

A growing body of research has raised questions about the negative consequences of corporal punishment, including physical injury, given that school corporal punishment is typically meted out with large wooden paddles. Concerns such as these recently (2/7/13) led the North Carolina State Board of Education to adopt a resolution opposing school corporal punishment, although it remains legal in the state.

One of the main arguments proffered by legislative opponents of school corporal punishment bans is that, without corporal punishment, students will not learn discipline and will engage in unruly and delinquent behaviors both in and out of school. The present paper answers the question: Have states that enacted school corporal punishment bans seen increases in juvenile crime post-ban compared with states that have not enacted bans over the same time period?

This paper uses a difference-in-difference approach with data from all 50 states and the District of Columbia to identify whether juvenile crime increased after the enactment of school corporal punishment bans. The paper examines changes in juvenile crime between 1980 and 1999, a period over which 22 states enacted school corporal punishment bans (5 enacted bans before 1980, and 4 enacted them after 1999). State-level juvenile justice data was obtained from the Federal Bureau of Investigation and was converted to ratios with the number of children in the state (obtained from Census data) as the denominator. Outcomes were overall rates juvenile crime as well as rates of juvenile personal crimes, property crimes, drug offenses, and status offenses. Models included state fixed effects, year fixed effects, and an indicator of whether or not states had implemented the ban in the given year, as well as time-varying controls for the percent of the state population that is children, the percent of the population living under the federal poverty threshold, and the percent of the population that was unemployed. We are also currently incorporating state-level changes in other juvenile justice laws that are not captured in the year fixed effects.

Contrary to the dire predictions of ban proponents, our results indicate that youth in states with bans were not more likely to engage in juvenile crime post-ban than youth in states that continued to allow corporal punishment in public schools. These findings suggest that legislatures that are currently considering bans of school corporal punishment, such as in Texas (2013: H.B. 471), need not worry that such a policy change would result in increases in state juvenile crime rates.