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YouthSpeaksOut! is a monthly 60 minute public affairs program hosted by high school students in Mendocino County, California. Produced by Dan Roberts, our website with archives is www.youthspeaksout.net
Today our topic is Harm Reduction and Zero Tolerance. Harm reduction is a set of policy beliefs, essentially stating that some people always have and always will perform activities, such as drug use that may cause them harm. Therefore, the best method that will reduce the harm caused by risky activities should be adopted, rather than an ineffective blanket prohibition of the performance of harmful activities.
Harm reduction has been applied to activities other than drugs, such as
Mandatory seat belt/helmet laws
Laws controlling smoking in public
Encouragement of the use of water pipes as opposed to cigarettes and straight pipes
Sex education classes
Not notifying parents about their children receiving contraception
Not notifying parents for youth abortions
All of these initiatives aim to reduce the harm that may be caused by risky activities.
We will begin today s show by listening to an interview recorded in 2001 for YouthSpeaksOut! Jack was asking questions about harm reduction to Kali Sham Devito, a drug counselor who was working the local schools. Here is the interview-
*****PLAY INTERVIEW WITH KALI SHAM 17:05*****
That was an interview that Jack did in 2001 with Kali Sham Devito on Harm Reduction. Jack was a student at Willits High School and Kali was a psychotherapist working with the local schools in drug counseling.
Even though this recording is 13 years old, it sounds pretty relevant to the situation today. Maybe more relevant since the probability is that California will legalize recreational marijuana use within a few years, like Washington and Colorado have already done. While there has never been a shortage of marijuana in our region, the normalization of its use will make it even more available to young people.
Kali defined Harm Reduction as decreasing the damage that could be caused by substance use, without requiring complete abstinence. The key is accepting the user s decision to use, but helping them to recognize where it is creating a conflict for themselves or others. YouthSpeaksOut! has presented several programs about how marijuana, alcohol and other drugs affect the development of the adolescent brain. Occasional light use of substances will not cause serious impediments to brain development. Continued use of marijuana or alcohol by adolescents will probably inhibit learning abilities. Heavy use of alcohol can easily lead to serious car accidents, physical or sexual assaults, and unprotected sex. If youth are going to experiment with these substances that the adult population uses, they deserve to be informed so as to reduce the potential harm.
Let s talk for a bit about what we know about harm reduction and if we think that it is an adequate way to deal with substance use among young people.
*********Discuss what harm reduction is and how it applies to youth****
Harm reduction isn t limited to substance use, the use of seat belts was mentioned in the interview. And we can add to that restrictions on public cigarette smoking to protect people from second-hand smoke, the distribution of condoms to prevent the spread of STDs, and warning labels on food, alcohol, and pharmaceuticals. Harm reduction is being applied to many aspects of our society.
Clearly, people who regularly consume cigarettes are not spending time seriously contemplating the warning labels on the packages. Millions of people have received traffic fines for failure to use their seat belts. So it seems that attempts at harm reduction are not necessarily effective.
Another method of changing behaviors is employing the practice of zero-tolerance. Zero-tolerance in schools is a policy of punishing any infraction of a rule, regardless of accidental mistakes, ignorance, or extenuating circumstances. In schools, common zero-tolerance policies concern possession or use of illicit drugs or weapons. Zero-tolerance disciplinary policies are often the first step in a child s journey through the school-to-prison pipeline.
A study by the National Education Policy Center found that zero-tolerance policies across the nation were increasing suspension rates, with students accused of non-violent offenses such as dress code violations, cell phone use, and insubordination. They found that zero-tolerance policies put children on a path of truancy and likely incarceration.
In 2010 suspension rates in California schools were compared by county by the California Department of Education. Mendocino county had the highest suspension rate in the state- at a whooping 39% The suspension rate is the number of suspensions divided into the total number of students- since you can be suspended more than once in a year, this 39% is not the percentage of students suspended. Still, Mendocino county had the highest rate of suspensions in the state.
In response to the epidemic of suspensions and expulsions in California schools, in 2012 the California Assembly passed bills allowing alternative means of correction instead of expulsion or suspension in some cases. It also stated that possession of over the counter drugs, a student s prescription drugs, or an imitation firearm do not automatically require expulsion.
Let s talk for a while about zero-tolerance. Is it in practice in our schools? What kind of atmosphere does it create?
**************Discuss zero-tolerance and suspensions**********
We re going to open the phone lines now. The phone number is 456-9991. Everyone is welcome to call, and we d especially like to encourage the youth, their parents, and concerned friends in the listening audience. Please call in if you have questions or insights about harm reduction or zero-tolerance.
Do you think that harm reduction is an adequate approach to protecting young people from the negative affects of drugs like marijuana and alcohol? How would you recommend that young people having difficulties from substance use be helped?
Can the concept of harm reduction be applied to the problems of bullying and school violence?
What do you think of the concept of zero-tolerance in the schools? Is suspending or expelling students a form of harm reduction for the other students? What will become of the thrown away students?
What do you think about Mendocino County leading the state in the rates of suspension? State education law requires suspension for willful defiance. This accounts for 40% of all suspensions. Can you think of a way to reduce these suspensions?
Please join this discussion about harm reduction and zero tolerance.