Tuesday, December 01, 2009

In Focus: The School to Prison Pipeline

The second installment in the Greater Pittsburgh Chapter’s Juvenile Justice Series Discussion focused on the School to Prison Pipeline (STPP).

The School to Prison Pipeline refers to the policies and practices that push our nation’s schoolchildren, especially our most at-risk children, out of classrooms and into the juvenile and criminal justice system. The most important aspect is the prioritization of incarceration over education.

On October 8th, Jasiri X led the discussion at the Amani International Coffee House on the North Side. Jasiri X, an activist and entrepreneur, focuses his attention and celebrity on local, national, and international issues. Weekly, he reports news lyrically over hip hop beats streaming online. Jasiri X is also a founding member of One HOOD, a group comprised of strong black men determined to heal the wounds of the Pittsburgh community through a proactive approach.

The discussion evolved around the reasons why the STPP exists and how it effects the most at-risk youth.

Five main factors contributing to the STPP:

  • Failing Public Schools: Most students’ journeys along the pipeline begin in public schools with inadequate resources-mostly counseling services and special education services that lock students into poor educational environments with no outlets.
  • Zero-Tolerance and Other School Discipline: These polices automatically impose severe punishment regardless of circumstance. As harsh penalties for minor misbehavior become more pervasive, schools increasingly ignore or bypass due process protections for suspensions and expulsions.
  • Policing in School Hallways: Trends toward police acting as disciplinarians and away from teachers and administrators expose students to a rise in school-based arrests, which are the quickest route from the schoolhouse to the jailhouse. School-based arrests exemplify the most apparent exhibit of the criminalization of schoolchildren.
  • Disciplinary Alternative Schools: Many of these institutions are run by for-profit entrepreneurs, who are not accountable for educational standards. When students leave these facilities and reenter their schools, they are often unprepared for their coursework and permanently exposed to an educational disadvantage.
  • Court Involvement and Juvenile Detention: Many youth involved in the juvenile system are denied procedural protections in the courts. Further, their probation conditions are not fitting for the crimes committed. Violating such conditions forces these children into juvenile detention facilities, which provide little to no educational services.

It should be noted that students of color are far more likely to travel through the STPP than their white counterparts for the same conduct. Those with disabilities are also at higher risk because schools do not provide adequate diagnoses or services. Most students who become a part of the STPP never graduate high school.

For more information regarding future Greater Pittsburgh Chapter discussion series, visit http://www.aclupa.org/chapters/greaterpittsburgh/discussionseries20092010.htm.

Kristine in Pittsburgh

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