Tuesday, May 15, 2007


I used to know what lockdown meant. I'm not so sure anymore.

I had an adjunct job one summer, teaching economics for a Texas junior college. The particular campus my course was taught at was the Ellis II unit of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (corrections department). It was a maximum security prison unit outside Huntsville, Texas.

When we had a lockdown it meant nobody moved, nobody came in, nobody went out. Lockdowns were instituted when a count was off. Prisons take frequent body counts of inmates throughout the day -- when they did a count that didn't match what it was supposed to it could mean that they miscounted, it could mean an inmate was someplace he wasn't supposed to be.

So they'd lock it down and do another count, and just keep counting until they got the count right. We never had a lockdown during class, but I did arrive for class during a lockdown once, which meant I waited in the parking lot for an hour.

The purpose of that lockdown was to put all the inmates in known locations to hasten the recount. Counts are important to ensure inmates stay where they're supposed to say, it's part of the security. But it's the security of the corrections officials that's paramount, not the security of inmates. Prisons don't have lockdowns to protect the inmates, they have lockdowns to protect the CO's and control the inmates.

So, what I'm confused about is Why do schools have lockdowns? What's the purpose? Who's security are we concerned about and what are we keeping them secure from?

The school lockdown that made everyone aware of the practice of lockdowns outside of a prison setting was the one at Columbine High School. What was very clear in that case was that the security being ensured by the lockdown was the security of the responding police officers, not the security of the students.

The students where in the process of being killed while police secured the perimeter of the school, to enforce a lockdown. So, exactly how are parents supposed to respond when they learn their child is in a school under lockdown?

According to school officials in Winslow, New Jersey they are supposed to respond with quiet compliance, the same way the children being locked down are supposed to respond.

Meanwhile, some parents criticized the behavior of other parents during the four-hour lockdown of the high school as police investigated a report of an unidentified gunman in the school on Thursday.

According to a letter Swirsky sent to district parents, a student reported seeing an unidentified male student in a stairwell lift his T-shirt to reveal a gun after making a threatening statement. Neither the alleged gunman nor a weapon was found.

During the lockdown, about 200 parents appeared at the high school in a scene that verged on chaos.

Some parents accused officials of lying to them by telling them that the incident was simply a drill.

Swirsky has said employees had been directed to advise parents that an investigation was under way at the school.

On Monday, the criticism was directed at the parents who showed up at the high school during the ordeal.

Dawn Pearson, the mother of two students and a district teacher, said if the parents had flocked to the high school during a true emergency, they could have undermined any rescue effort.

Lockdowns do not facilitate a rescue effort. They make it easier for police to search for the bad guy and protect students from being accidently killed by police who can't tell the bad guys from the good guys. They do not help in any rescue effort, and lockdowns do not protect the students from the existing threat. Lockdowns only protect students from new threats introduced by nutcase cops running around with guns.

We should stop the practice of instituting a school lockdown whenever a school is faced with some threat. School evacuations, maybe. School lockdowns, never.

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