School-to-Prison Pipeline


 School-to-Prison Pipeline…the Cost, Considerations, and What to Do About It

I don’t like catchphrases things like “follow-the-money” or “school-to-prison pipeline” but it seems that we’ve defined most of the social ills that affect us today in one or two catchphrases, there’s always talk and opinions “surrounding” the issues. I think many have said it best in fact Ms. Michelle Alexander’s book the New Jim Crow truly highlighted the condition of the complexities and industries that have targeted the global majority, black and brown, communities across this country.

The fact is there are institutions in the United States that have policies that will lead to the continued incarceration, institutionalization, and  criminalization of communities of color. Particularly the prison industrial complex.  We have talked about and attempted to address the same ills black and brown adults, face and was effectively captured in The New Jim Crow, also affect black and brown youth in the same disproportionate manner.  We loosely describe this issue as the “School-to-Prison.” There have been rally’s and concerts across the nation to “address” the issue bringing service agencies parents and families together to find support for this issue.  This is all great work, to add to that, I think many have not been able to shed light on the root of the problem and how to address it.

The Justice Policy Institute, in many reports that highlight and calculate the full price tag of youth incarceration in the United States.  As it truly illuminates the “Hu-man” capital men and women of color have become within the context of a capitalistic system. I don’t like the saying, “follow the money”, instead I like to say understand how they, institutions, get the money and why they keep the situation as is so they can continue to get the money. Because you see, it is about capitalism and human capital is at the heart of capitalism.  This is not to throw daggers at the “global capitalistic system.” I want you to focus and understand the direct correlation between institutions designed to make money and the volumes of black and brown bodies that make up the population of those institutions, the reason why these institutions continue; as well as the policies in place at the local level that fuel the systematic institutionalization.

The education system or rather the “miss-education” system policies in what some would call underserved communities, we know them as communities made up of mostly black and brown people and youth fuel and enable this dynamic we like to call the school-to-prison.  Black and brown youth are being incarcerated at alarming rates. So, lets talk about it the numbers behind youth caught in the trap of the “Juvenile Justice System” and “Education” system. Then you decide, whether this education to juvenile justice system relationship is something we must address.  I would contend it must be addressed, and when we do we do collectively and in an informed manner, in the steps I highlight below.  We must also be willing to address matters at all levels local, county, state and federal.  If necessary and if things do not change you we should be compelled to bring in the federal elements of government whose job it is to enforce the standard of laws adopted at the state level.

The issue is real, everyday youth of color are incarcerated at alarming rates and the cost to the tax payers and grant makers of the United States is immense.  In fact, according to the Justice Policy Institute and their report, “Sticker Shock Calculating the Full Price Tag of Youth Incarceration; 2014.” On average every day cost is $408 with annual cost of $148,000 a year to incarcerate youth the United States.  The predominance of those making up the juvenile justice system in the United States are African-American and Latino youth.  The nationwide total annual cost of confinement for youth in the United States ranges at a national annual average of somewhere between $8-$21 billion dollars.

The Justice Policy Institute report, “Sticker Shock Calculating the Full Price Tag of Youth Incarceration; 2014”

According to the same study, the main contributing factor to juvenile incarceration rates stem from the educational system.  Some of those driving effects include school zero-tolerance policies, expulsion and suspensions, cutbacks in social workers in mental health resources at school, in school arrest, disenfranchisement through high-stakes testing and academic failure, school closures, implicit and explicit bias, and finally the labeling of youth into the category of disability.  The sad thing about the disability categorization, is that this report goes even further to show that “racial and ethnic” minorities are disproportionately represented in special education were some categories of disability are diagnosed with subjective judgment.  Also, racial and ethnic minorities according to the report have higher rates of suspension and law enforcement referrals which cannot be attributed to higher rates of misbehavior. The same report again indicates youth mainly commit nonviolent offenses technical violations public order, and of the youth adjudicated 66% of the youth convicted are convicted of non-person offenses and referred predominately by the school system. This what is referred to as the “pipeline” because there is a direct correlation with incarceration numbers to that of contact and connection with the school system.

We’ve all seen it, a predominately African-American or Latino school will have several “resource officers” cops on campus, one counselor, and no support programs.  Parents who don’t receive any resources services like tutoring or counseling options, no real reason why your child was “referred” to special education courses, and most notably not getting a good explanation of suspension due to tardy when in some cases the teachers are marking students absent for being tardy.

So, we have an epidemic, and it’s costing the U.S a lot of money, hurting the youth in the long run and majority affect youth of color.  At this point it is my opinion that marching or concerts are going to change the policy enforcements at the educational level piece nor address how they are “pipe-lining” youth of color into the juvenile justice system. The things that will change this dynamic is parents and community members coming together and understanding the policies that are on the books at the local schools, understanding the resources that are available or should be available at your local school and the funding behind it; most importantly how to leverage understanding and collective or individual actions to affect change. If these things are not addressed the problem will persist, they will police our schools fund “resource officers” instead of quality programs in our schools, police our communities instead of build up our communities, fund and build new juvenile detention centers instead of building new schools.

If you are concerned about the prison industrial complex and the “school-to-prison” pipeline then getting beyond the catchphrases, marches and concerts to the root of the problem is the first step. Identifying actions to correct the systematic issues is the next step, and taking consistent reoccurring actions against the systems of injustice as parents, community members and concerned citizens is imperative and the only solution to me that makes sense.

Here are some recommend 5-point action steps parents and community members can take to help in the struggle.  One, get a copy of your school policy booklet, you know the ones that is thick that they send home at the beginning of the year, and read it.  Two, go to the next school board meeting, understand who they are, what are the current issues and policies being voted on and put in place.  Because, these policies are the same policies that will be enforced upon your children. Three, get to know and vote for the next school board representative. Four, meet with fellow parents, understand if they are experiencing the same issues, agree and decide if and when you will act as a collective. Five, go to your state website, look for review and try and understand state educational policies because the only reason why your school is being funded is through state apportioned grants and local bond dollars, if you own a home check your end of year property tax report statement to confirm my point here.

My last nugget of shared knowledge, if a state and county is receiving grant funding for the local school district; your “Local Education Authority (LEA)” and board has to adhere to federal and state policies an guidelines to continue to receive the “grant” funds.  This includes any local policy voted-on, enacted and enforced.  So, the school and administration may be violating state, for that matter, federal policies.  But, this will require you to know those policies and be willing to take action when, they’ve taken actions that violate those policies.  Then and only then, can you call into question the money being received. Imagine something akin to local parents and community members acting as a collective and doing something like what the Chicago Police Department is doing.  The Chicago Police department is suing the federal government over grant dollars being denied and sanctuary city threats…wow…really.

This highlights the power of grant dollars, what it means to the funding of local programs, and how impacting those funds causes an immediate local response. This is the power of collective knowledge and not just following the money…but knowing how and why the money flows to an organization.  This sort of collective action done right and done at scale with parents, who’re experiencing the same violations, well let’s just say it’s something the school board and district would prefer to avoid.  As it would be a law suit in and or directed directly at the violators and impact grant dollars

All things won’t work at once, and may not be effective the first time around, but any action is better than no action.  Also, action from a position of power, with full understanding laws, policies, flow of money and your rights will arm you well enough to begin the battle for the life and rights or your child.

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Author, Tameka R. Peoples Speak Truth…2017

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