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The School-to-Prison Pipeline

The American Bar Association’s website tells the story of a 14-year-old student who threw a pen out a bus window, hitting a car.  Although you might expect such behavior to warrant a trip to the principal’s office, instead, this boy was charged with a felony and taken to jail.  In another such story that made national news not long ago, a student at Spring Valley High School in South Carolina was violently arrested for disrupting the classroom when she refused to give up her cellphone.  These are just two incidents that reflect the increasing incarceration of juveniles in what is being referred to as the “school-to-prison pipeline.”

What is the school-to-prison pipeline?

The American Civil Liberties Union describes this pipeline as the policies and practices that push children, especially the most at-risk children, away from the education system and into the criminal and juvenile justice systems.  According to the ACLU, the pipeline reflects “the prioritizing of incarceration over education.”  Experts agree that schools are increasingly becoming more like prisons in the name of security.  Too many students, especially those from society’s most marginalized groups, are being shunted from schools to the criminal justice system, either directly, by the growing police presence in schools, or indirectly, through suspensions and expulsions.

Policies contributing to the pipeline

Some of the policies and practices that contribute to the school-to-prison pipeline include:

  • inadequate public school resources, which lead to student disengagement and dropping out;
  • zero tolerance policies, which automatically impose severe punishments without regard for the actual circumstances of an incident;
  • the presence of police and metal detectors in schools; and
  • suspensions and expulsions, which increase the likelihood that students will disengage and drop out, or at the very least fall behind their classmates. Moreover, the ACLU notes that frequently, schools disregard due process protections when students are suspended or expelled.

Reversing the school-to-prison pipeline

The American Bar Association’s Joint Task Force on Reversing the School-to-Prison Pipeline recently released a preliminary report resulting from its investigation into the problem.  The report focuses on continuing failures in the education system with respect to certain groups of marginalized students, including students of color, students with disabilities, and LGBTQ students.  According to the ABA, these students:

  • are disciplined more harshly (including being referred to law enforcement for minor misbehavior);
  • achieve at lower levels; and
  • eventually drop out or are pushed out of school, frequently into juvenile justice facilities and prisons.

The preliminary report contains policy suggestions and recommendations, including:

  • increasing legal representation for students in suspensions and expulsions; and
  • training on implicit bias and ways to decrease bias for teachers, school administrators, school resource officers, police, juvenile judges, and others dealing with juveniles.

The task force expects to finalize its report and submit policy recommendations for the ABA to consider at its annual meeting in August 2016.

Reach out to an Orlando juvenile offenses lawyer

If your child or another loved one has been charged with a juvenile offense, your best ally is an experienced juvenile offenses lawyer to protect your child’s rights, and yours, throughout the legal process.  The juvenile lawyers of The Baez Law Firm, serving clients in Orlando, Tampa and Miami, can help you devise a legal strategy to protect your children and their future. Contact The Baez Law Firm for a consultation without delay.

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