Juvenile Justice Information Exchange
Education and Discipline: Exploring the School-to-Prison Pipeline
What are the unintended consequences of bad school discipline policies? One consequence is the channeling of fairly inoffensive young people into the criminal justice system. The phenomenon of the school-to-prison pipeline has advocates and some school boards working to rethink appropriate responses and use of resources when responding to school misbehavior. JJIE has a compiled a selection of articles dealing with the school-to-prison pipeline below:
Almost 70,000 youth were suspended in NYC in 2011-2012. In the wake of this troubling reality, former New York State Chief Judge Judith Kaye and the NYC School-Justice Partnership Task Force presented a new report called, “Keeping Kids in School and Out of Court.”
Arresting young people too often turns them in to adults who get arrested, creating a so-called school-to-prison pipeline, say some juvenile justice experts. One way to break that cycle is to intervene early, but it takes a lot of community partners. “Not every kid who does something needs to go to juvenile court. That’s what we try to get across to our administrators,” said John Hall, from the Memphis, Tenn. school system’s School House Adjustment Program Enterprise at an Atlanta conference on Thursday.
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Twenty-year-old Edward Ward, a sophomore on the honor roll at DePaul University, tried to describe to U.S. Sens. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Al Franken (D-Minn.), the only senators left in the room by the time he spoke on Capitol Hill Wednesday, what it was like to grow up in his neighborhood on the west side of Chicago. “When I was 18, I witnessed a complete stranger’s killing mere feet from me in a neighborhood restaurant,” Ward said before the Senate subcommittee. “I was stopped by the police a few years ago. I saw them train their guns on me until I could show them the item in my hand was only a cell phone.”
Things didn’t get much better at high school, Ward said.
The U.S. Department of Justice says a school-to-prison pipeline that runs through schools, the city police department and juvenile courts threatens children in Meridian, Miss. The school system is negotiating a new set of rules with the DOJ. The city, county, youth court and state of Mississippi, meanwhile, have just gotten hit with a federal lawsuit, and attention that may have already changed their ways. “We filed this lawsuit because we have to,” said U.S. Deputy Assistant Attorney General Roy Austin, in a public telephone conference on Oct. 25, the day after his department sued the City of Meridian, Lauderdale County, the county Youth Court judges and Mississippi’s Division of Youth Services claiming that the four agencies work together to ignore children’s due process rights and incarcerate them for minor infractions.
The federal Department of Justice (DOJ) is suing the Mississippi county, city and judges who they say systematically ignore youthful defendants’ rights, resulting in a well-beaten path from school to incarceration. “The department is bringing this lawsuit to ensure that all children are treated fairly and receive the fullest protection of the law,” said Thomas E. Perez, assistant attorney general for the DOJ Civil Rights Division, in a written statement on Oct. 24. The suit is being brought against the city of Meridian, Lauderdale County, the two judges of the county Youth Court and the state of Mississippi.“It is in all of our best interests to ensure that children are not incarcerated for alleged minor infractions, and that police and courts meet their obligations to uphold children’s constitutional rights,” he wrote. The DOJ published preliminary accusations against the now-defendants some 10 weeks ago, threatening a lawsuit if the Mississippians did not cooperate.
A key deadline has passed in the federal investigation of an alleged “school-to-prison” pipeline in Meridian, Miss., without the U.S. Department of Justice taking any visible action. The DOJ threatened a federal lawsuit “unless there are meaningful negotiations … within 60 days” of an Aug. 10 public letter. That letter accused the City of Meridian, Lauderdale County and state agencies of running a shoddy juvenile justice system. African-American students and students who have disabilities, according to the letter, are disproportionately caught in the net.
This story was produced in partnership with the Center for Public Integrity
Meridian is not alone under the DOJ magnifying glass. In a somewhat similar case in Tennessee, the DOJ says the Juvenile Court of Memphis and Shelby County has failed to inform children of the charges against them and of failing to make sure the children know what their legal rights are ahead of questioning. Like Meridian, the juvenile court is also accused of failing to hold timely hearings. There are varying definitions of a school-to-prison pipeline, said Jim Freeman, senior attorney at Advancement Project, a nonprofit legal action group that fights racial injustice. “How I like to define it,” Freeman said, “is the use of policies and practices that increase the likelihood that young people become incarcerated.”
That includes at-school arrests for minor behavioral incidents, as well as what he calls more indirect actions, like suspensions, expulsions or references to juvenile court or alternative schools.
In recent years, juvenile justice advocates, lawyers, policy-makers, and reformers have increasingly sought to raise awareness of the American phenomenon of the “school-to-prison pipeline.”
The term refers generally to the process in which substandard public schools fail to provide adequate support and resources for at-risk children and their families, resulting in high drop-out rates and ultimately leading to court-involvement, detention and incarceration. More specifically, the term refers to the pattern in which students who have committed school-based wrongdoing — whether by pushing another child in the hallway, taking a pencil from a teacher’s desk, or disrupting class — are summarily arrested, charged with violating a criminal offense, and prosecuted in juvenile delinquency court. After a judge finds them delinquent, youth are then placed on probation and court-ordered to comply with a long series of conditions, typically including that they not be suspended (or not be suspended again) from school. In many jurisdictions when a juvenile on probation is suspended — even for a minor infraction at school — the consequences of the violation may include incarceration in a detention center. Research has shown that youth who are disproportionately impacted by the school-to-prison pipeline are likely to be those who are already the most vulnerable: low-income students, children of color, English language learners, youth in foster care, students with disabilities (whether physical, psychological, or developmental), and homeless children.
For some time I have read about the “school to prison pipeline,” an idea that links zero tolerance policies, school policing, disproportionate minority contact with disciplinary processes, and other factors to the increased incarceration of minority youth. The basic idea is that the system formed by these practices and structures contributes to putting more kids in prison. Lately, I have come across a similar term, the cradle to prison pipeline. This is the phrase trademarked by the Children’s Defense Fund (CDF). It is daunting to consider that societal structures and policies can have such an affect on a newborn.