Walker, H. M., & Gresham, F. M. (1997). Making Schools Safer and Violence Free. Intervention in School and Clinic , 32 (4), 199-204. 


Violence in America is a social toxin that is now pervasive in every sector of our society and has lowered the quality of life for everyone. For the first time since 1970, violent acts against strangers accounts for a higher proportion of violent acts than those committed against acquaintances (Hughes & Hasbrouk, 1996). This development, among others, means that our public safety has declined precipitously and that no one has complete immunity from the possibility of physical victimization by violent acts. Increasingly, we must adjust our lifestyles and daily choices in order to accommodate to the potential threat of violence which, in a very real sense, is another form of victimization.

Cycles of recurring violence can be traced back in our history to the Civil War and each cycle tends to prompt new legislative reforms and initiatives to establish social control of this phenomenon. In the past century, these cycles and attempts to control them have produced increasingly severe sanctions (Fagan, 1996). Today, we stand as the most violent, developed country in the world and we incarcerate a greater proportion of our citizens than any other country (American Psychological Association, 1993; Greenwood, 1995). It is not clear at this point if we are engaged in yet another cycle of violence or have instead evolved into a society whose culture has embraced violence as a characteristic and permanent feature. At the very least, it appears that our norms and attitudes about the use of violence have changed in ways that make it more likely to occur.

Coie (1995) argues that the youth of today are increasingly coming from backgrounds where antisocial behavior is normative rather than unusual. These youth are highly agitated and invested in antisocial attitudes and beliefs that legitimize violent solutions to interpersonal conflicts. They tend to see the behavior and intentions of others as malevolent and biased against them. In all too many cases, this bias distorts their ability to correctly decode and interpret the social behavior of others. In turn, they frequently decide to react aggressively to situations they view as challenging or threatening--often with tragic consequences. This form of reactive aggression is a new and dangerous development in the behavior of today's children and youth. When combined with the easy availability of weapons, drugs and alcohol, we have an explosive mixture that puts our society and the public safety at risk.

Today, thousands of students are sitting in our schools who fit the above profile of an at risk, antisocial youth who is very poorly socialized to the demands of schooling. Many of these students will have contacts with police very early in their lives; some will become delinquent; and others will join gangs and use violence as an instrumental means of achieving social goals. Schools are poorly equipped to cope effectively with this student population and the more severely involved students often hold schools hostage and pose dangers to other students and staff alike. Schools are no longer the safe havens they once were where students were free to develop and learn the skills necessary to have successful, productive lives.

This article focuses on school safety and violence prevention. The following topics are addressed herein: (1) violence among today's schoolage youth (2) causal factors associated with violence (3) the impact of violence upon schools (4) characteristics of safe and unsafe schools and (5) recommended strategies and resources for addressing school safety.