A few months ago, I posted a discussion regarding minority incarceration; the purpose of this discussion was to inform and to discuss whether or not this issue is preventable.
Today, I am concerned with a similar issue. Prior to completing my research, it had nothing to do with minorities but rather youth in general; however, as my research continued I realized that African Americans and Hispanics are suffering more from this issue than their counterparts.
Have you ever heard of the ‘the school to prison pipeline’? If you haven’t then let me give you a brief description of what this is. Based on not only my personal opinion but that of many other professionals in the field of education and criminal justice, school to prison pipeline is an epidemic that has been plaguing schools throughout the United States. More and more youth are not only being suspended or expelled from school, but are being arrested for minor offenses. Some of the reasons for youth being detained include things from truancy or smoking to fighting or carry weapons; the policies differ from one state or school to another. Times are definitely changing; a trip to the principal’s office has become a trip to the juvenile detention center!
Most of us are aware of this epidemic and recognize it as being called ‘zero tolerance policies’ which began its implementation into schools in 1999 after the Columbine shooting. I understand that there must be steps taken to protect all children but it is absolutely absurd for us to believe that sending our youth to the police station rather than the principal’s office is the answer. Please do not get me wrong, I am aware that there are some who must face the consequences of juvenile detention center; all cannot be saved but all cannot and should not be lost either. It is believed this action is a major contributor to the prison pipeline; and a large part of why youth are not graduating from high school and ending up on the wrong side of the legal system.
Many of these youth, once they are removed from school they are ‘let go’ and left to spend more time in negative environments such as their homes or their neighborhoods; they are often made to become ‘hardened’, confused, and often times bitter; some fall behind in school, and are often stigmatized. We all know what happens next; yes, they end up dropping out of school. Once that happens there is usually only one way in life to go and that is the wrong way. Sound far-fetched??? If you think so then try talking to some of the youth hanging on the corner; better yet, sit and have a conversation with a guy serving time in the penitentiary.
Research suggests that even though African American students only make up 15% of the students covered in their data, they make up a third of the students that have been suspended at least once, and 44% of those suspended more than once with a third more ending up expelled. Based on the current facts, these policies disproportionately target youth of color, with a history of abuse and/or neglect, living in poverty, or who has learning disabilities.
Statistics further show that 70% of students involved in ‘in-school’ arrests or referred to law enforcement are African American or Hispanic; 68% of males in state and federal prison do not have a high school diploma. To add, there are 30% of youth entering into the juvenile justice system who are in foster care due to behavioral cases; 25% of those leaving foster care at the age of 18 will end up in prison within a few years of their aging out.
Almost half of all African American males are arrested by the age of 23; 49% of all African American males entering the work force do so with an arrest record; this is the same for 44% of all Hispanic males. Those who have experienced any contact with police early in life are more likely to commit crimes later in life; research shows that locking youth up only diverts them away from their education. What is even more disturbing to me is that there is a great amount of research that suggests that incarceration does not work! In one of my previous discussions we established that in adults the department of corrections fails to ‘correct’! Why in the world would anyone think this is the answer for ‘correcting’ the behavior of youth???
As always there is a discrepancy regarding whether or not this is an issue that negatively impacts the minority youth more than it does the Caucasian youth; a discrepancy that only makes it more difficult to address the issue accordingly. Everyone involved must understand that it does not matter what an African American representative says versus a Caucasian representative because at the end of the day the numbers do not lie.
This has become such an issue that the Obama administration has insisted that changes be made. They are urging schools to abandon the overly zealous discipline policies (those that civil rights leaders have in the past suggested leads to ‘school to prison pipelines’); of the list of guidelines recently issued to the schools, one suggestion is that the schools adhere to the principal of fairness and equity in student fairness. Teachers and administrators are also asked to participate in trainings that will assist them in better handling situations within the classroom, including de-escalation techniques which should help in eliminating the number of youth that have to be sent out of the classrooms. Another interesting suggestion is that the schools go back to ‘allowing’ the security guards get involved in the youth’s daily activity (particularly when the youth are being difficult) rather than police officers.
Is this the answer??? Will having the Obama administration get involved really change things??? Will removing the option of having youth handcuffed and hauled out of class in front of their peers and taken to a police station make a difference in the number of drop outs??? We don’t know for sure, but what we do know is that the current policies are not the answer!
Parents/guardians, family members, teachers/administrators, community leaders….please, let’s support our youth! Write to the appropriate policymakers, your governors and mayors. Talk to your children; explain to them how serious this really is….their future depends on it!
Mrs. Tomaro Pilgrim, MS