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Perps or Pupils? Safety Policy Creates Prison-like New York City Schools


August 22, 2012 Brooklyn, NY, USA: Minerva Dickson a former New York City public school sudent stands outside Thomas Jefferson High School  Located at 400 Pennsylvania Avenue in East New York Brooklyn. Ms. Dickson described the school as being like a prison.(Robert Stolarik for Juvenile Justice Information Exchange)

August 22, 2012 Brooklyn, NY, USA: Minerva Dickson a former New York City public school sudent stands outside Thomas Jefferson High School  Located at 400 Pennsylvania Avenue in East New York Brooklyn. Ms. Dickson described the school as being like a prison.(Robert Stolarik for Juvenile Justice Information Exchange)

August 22, 2012 Brooklyn, NY, USA: A School Safety Agent stands guard outside JHS 50 John D. Wells. in Williamsburg Brooklyn.(Robert Stolarik for Juvenile Justice Information Exchange)

August 22, 2012 Brooklyn, NY, USA: A School Safety Agent stands guard outside  JHS 50 John D. Wells. in Williamsburg Brooklyn.(Robert Stolarik for Juvenile Justice Information Exchange)

August 22, 2012 Brooklyn, NY, USA: A School Safety Agent stands guard outside JHS 50 John D. Wells. in Williamsburg Brooklyn.(Robert Stolarik for Juvenile Justice Information Exchange)

August 22, 2012 Brooklyn, NY, USA: A School Safety Agent stands guard outside  JHS 50 John D. Wells. in Williamsburg Brooklyn.(Robert Stolarik for Juvenile Justice Information Exchange)

August 22, 2012 Brooklyn, NY, USA: A School Safety Agent stands guard outside JHS 50 John D. Wells. in Williamsburg Brooklyn.(Robert Stolarik for Juvenile Justice Information Exchange)

August 22, 2012 Brooklyn, NY, USA: A School Safety Agent stands guard outside  JHS 50 John D. Wells. in Williamsburg Brooklyn.(Robert Stolarik for Juvenile Justice Information Exchange)

August 22, 2012 Brooklyn, NY, USA: Minerva Dickson a former New York City public school sudent stands outside Thomas Jefferson High School  Located at 400 Pennsylvania Avenue in East New York Brooklyn. Ms. Dickson described the school as being like a prison.(Robert Stolarik for Juvenile Justice Information Exchange)

August 22, 2012 Brooklyn, NY, USA: Minerva Dickson a former New York City public school sudent stands outside Thomas Jefferson High School  Located at 400 Pennsylvania Avenue in East New York Brooklyn. Ms. Dickson described the school as being like a prison.(Robert Stolarik for Juvenile Justice Information Exchange)

August 22, 2012 Brooklyn, NY, USA: The Grand Street Campus at 850 GRAND STREET in Bushwick Brooklyn serves as a staging area for School Safety Agents. (Robert Stolarik for Juvenile Justice Information Exchange)

August 22, 2012 Brooklyn, NY, USA: The Grand Street Campus at 850 GRAND STREET in Bushwick Brooklyn serves as a staging area for School Safety Agents. (Robert Stolarik for Juvenile Justice Information Exchange)

August 22, 2012 Brooklyn, NY, USA: The Grand Street Campus at 850 GRAND STREET in Bushwick Brooklyn serves as a staging area for School Safety Agents. (Robert Stolarik for Juvenile Justice Information Exchange)

August 22, 2012 Brooklyn, NY, USA: The Grand Street Campus at 850 GRAND STREET in Bushwick Brooklyn serves as a staging area for School Safety Agents. (Robert Stolarik for Juvenile Justice Information Exchange)

August 22, 2012 Brooklyn, NY, USA: Minerva Dickson a former New York City public school sudent stands outside Thomas Jefferson High School  Located at 400 Pennsylvania Avenue in East New York Brooklyn. Ms. Dickson described the school as being like a prison.(Robert Stolarik for Juvenile Justice Information Exchange)

August 22, 2012 Brooklyn, NY, USA: Minerva Dickson a former New York City public school sudent stands outside Thomas Jefferson High School  Located at 400 Pennsylvania Avenue in East New York Brooklyn. Ms. Dickson described the school as being like a prison.(Robert Stolarik for Juvenile Justice Information Exchange)

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Text by Daryl Khan, Photographs by Robert Stolarik

When Minerva Dickson (pictured in yellow skirt) first saw her high school she thought it looked like a prison. After her first week she realized how right her initial impressions were.

Every day when she arrived at the Thomas Jefferson Campus in Brownsville, Brooklyn, she waited in a line that snaked out onto Pennsylvania Avenue. She would shuffle up two steps passing beneath words from Abraham Lincoln inscribed on the neo-classical pediment: “Let Reverence for the Laws Become the Political Religion of the Nation.”

Next, she reached into her pocket for her identification card and slid it through a machine. When it recognized her, it blurted an approving beep and a green light would flash. When it didn’t, the machine made an abrasive buzzing noise and lit up red.

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Clear of the reader, she headed to the metal detectors. There, at least a half dozen school safety agents waited. School safety agents, who answer to the New York City Police Department, wear a police uniform and a shield. A pair of handcuffs dangles from their belts.

Under their gaze, Dickson would remove her jewelry, hairpins, and shoes. She would place her purse and her backpack on the conveyor belt and wait for an agent to nod her through. Another would run a security wand around her diminutive frame while she stood arms out, legs spread.

She’d collect her belongings, slip on her shoes and hurry to first period.

“They never said anything to us,” she said, standing outside her school one recent evening. “There was no relationship at all. They just stared at the monitors. They treated us like criminals. It made me hate school. When you cage up students like that it doesn’t make us safe, it makes things worse.”

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This story was produced in partnership with the Center for Public Integrity

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4 Comments on “Perps or Pupils? Safety Policy Creates Prison-like New York City Schools

  1. I’m sorry but I completely disagree with this. I transferred to a school with scanners/metal detectors my sophomore year (last year), and in my opinion scanners are a good thing. In fact, the other day I was talking to my friends about this and they all agreed that it makes them feel safer. Please, lets not forget that these aren’t safe neighborhoods. If it wasn’t for these scanners/metal detectors there would be stabbings and shootings on a regular bases. I mean, yes it’s going to take you a few more minutes to get to class, but you shouldn’t have to worry about someone having a gun or pocket knife in class.

    I honestly think school safety agents do a tremendous job. I’ve seen them stop people from getting in with liquor, knifes, phones, lighters, and even drugs. I don’t know about that school, but the school safety agents at my school (Bushwick Campus) are actually very friendly. I walk in everyday and they great me with an, “Aye, wassup man? How’s it going? You trying out for the baseball team? Good luck.” They literally talk to everyone, and know most people by their first name. I’m actually very grateful for having them around. If you’re having a bad day they notice and try to give you advice or help you out. They’re not just there for nothing. Most the time there’s no fights but you’ll still see them standing outside in the cold just in case there is one.

  2. I’m sorry but I completely disagree with this. I transferred to a school with scanners/metal detectors my sophomore year (last year), and in my opinion scanners are a good thing. In fact, the other day I was talking to my friends about this and they all agreed that it makes them feel safer. Please, lets not forget that these aren’t safe neighborhoods. If it wasn’t for these scanners/metal detectors there would be stabbings and shootings on a regular bases. I mean, yes it’s going to take you a few more minutes to get to class, but you shouldn’t have to worry about someone having a gun or pocket knife in class.

    I honestly think school safety agents do a tremendous job. I’ve seen them stop people from getting in with liquor, knifes, phones, lighters, drugs and even their friends. I don’t know about that school, but the school safety agents at my school (Bushwick Campus) are actually very friendly. I walk in everyday and they great me with an, “Aye, wassup man? How’s it going? You trying out for the baseball team? Good luck.” They literally talk to everyone, and know most people by their first name. I’m actually very grateful for having them around. If you’re having a bad day they notice and try to give you advice or help you out. They’re not just there for nothing. Most the time there’s no fights but you’ll still see them standing outside in the cold just in case there is one.

  3. AFTER GRADUATING OVER THIRTY-FIVE YEARS FROM THOMAS JEFFERSON, I AM STILL A LOYAL CITIZEN WHO HAS NEVER HAD A PRISON RECORD. THE SCHOOL AS WELL AS NEW YORK PORTRAIT SUCH FOR THE BLACK COMMUNITY! JUST AS WE HAD THEN, WE STILL NOW HAVE STEREOTYPES AS BLACK BEING WRONG AND WHITES BEING WHITE!
    WHO ELSE BUT A WHITE MAN SAID THAT?! WELL, I AM ONE WHO RELATES TO ANY COLOR AND NEVER MEET A STRANGER. HELP YOURSELF AND THEN WHOM NEEDS THE HELP AND LEAVE ALL THE NEGATIVE TO THE NEGATIVES!!
    KEEP IT MOVING!

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