“Does Putting Children In Jail Solve Anything?”

Social Work Helper: “During a single year, an estimated 2.1 million youth under the age of 18 are arrested in the United States. When we think of mass incarceration, we cannot just think of adults. Countless boys and girls are funneled from schools and neighborhoods to the juvenile justice system each year, often followed by what seems to be the inevitable entry into the adult criminal justice world and its facilities.

What are the effects of the “School-to-prison” pipeline? Students of color face  harsher punishments in school than their white peers, leading to a higher number of youth of color incarcerated. Black and Hispanic students represent more than 70 percent of those involved in school-related arrests or referrals to law enforcement. Currently, African Americans make uptwo-fifths and Hispanics one-fifth of confined youth today.

According to recent data by the Department of Education, African American students are arrested far more often than their white classmates. The data showed that 96,000students were arrested and 242,000 referred to law enforcement by schools during the 2009-10 school year. Of those students, black and Hispanic students made up more than 70 percent of arrested or referred students. Harsh school punishments, from suspensions to arrests, have led to high numbers of youth of color coming into contact with the juvenile-justice system and at an earlier age.

African American youth have higher rates of juvenile incarceration and are more likely to be sentenced to adult prison. According to the Sentencing Project, even though African American juvenile youth are about 16 percent of the youth population, 37 percent of their cases are moved to criminal court and 58 percent of African American youth are sent to adult prisons.”

Read the rest here.

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Dramatic Transformation of A School In Inner City Denver After Restorative Justice Implemented

Restorative Justice Online:

“Defending restorative discipline

by Jeremy Simons

When I started working at Cole Middle School in inner city Denver in 2003, it was ranked dead last in the entire state of Colorado, with proficiency scores on standardized testing (CSAP) in the single digits. It would later be shut down by the state and turned into a charter school, which was also closed after 3 years, in a bizarre attempt at school “accountability.”

Student misbehavior went hand in hand with the academic problems, with hundreds of students suspended every year and substitute teachers bullied out of the building by students. Local residents called the school a “gang factory.” Police cruisers were regularly parked outside with officers escorting students out between the elegant Doric columns supporting the main entrance, grand reminders of forgotten days when the school produced graduates rather than criminals. It was a sad example of what community activists and parents were just beginning to call the “school to prison pipeline”.

A year later, a dramatic turn around occurred, and Cole Middle School was awarded the outstanding safe school award for all schools in the state of Colorado by Project Pave, a violence prevention organization in Colorado. Student suspensions had been cut in half, and police citations (remember, these are middle school kids barely in their teens) had plummeted 85%.

What happened at Cole M.S. that led to this remarkable change?

There is not one single item that caused this dramatic improvement in school climate, rather a confluence of initiatives combined with tough leadership at the school level were tipping points:

1)   A new principal was brought in who combined determination, a capacity to deal with students and families coming from difficult circumstances and the ability to build a team of educators with shared commitments and expectations of student behavior and performance.

2)   A consistent school “climate” initiative and a restorative discipline system were instituted that emphasized re-integrating erring students into the school community through problem solving, face-to-face dialogue between conflicting students and alternative sanctions. Traditional punishment – suspensions and expulsions – were sometimes used, but only as a last resort.

3)   Support services were ramped up, including special education pull-out classes, in-house social workers, afterschool programs and community outreach by staff and local leaders. This kind of effort has been systematized into what is now known as Positive Behavior Support.”

Read the rest here.


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“A Fascinating Way to Put a Stop to the School-to-Prison Pipeline for Black Children”

AlterNet: “Destiny was in eighth grade when, in the middle of an altercation with another student, she grabbed a teacher’s jacket and threw it out of a classroom window.

She was enrolled at the Lyons Community School in Brooklyn, N.Y., where almost every kid is black or Latino and living in poverty. Only five percent are meeting standards in math and reading.

New federal data shows that across the United States, schools with demographics like these tend to respond to bad behavior with aggressive force. Principals put students as young as four years old into isolation rooms or suspension, kicking them off campus for days or even weeks at a time. School-based police officers — in New York City there are more of them than there are school psychologists or social workers — sometimes respond to offenses as trivial as talking back to a teacher with physical restraints or even arrest.

But Destiny was not isolated, suspended or arrested. She wasn’t even sent to detention. Instead, wearing gold hoop earrings and a t-shirt with a big pink heart, she appeared, a little jittery, before a “justice panel” of four teenage peers. They listened to Destiny’s side of the story (she didn’t know the jacket belonged to the teacher, she said) and determined her punishment: a face-to-face apology to the teacher, two days of community service cleaning up her classroom during lunch, and a follow-up conference with the peer panel to discuss what she had learned from the incident.

As depicted in a 2013 documentary called “ Growing Fairness,” Destiny accepted her sentence without complaint. An adult dean supervised the proceedings, but did not intervene.

These new kid courts, in which students are empowered to set school rules and mete out the punishments for breaking them, are sometimes called “restorative justice.” The concept, borrowed from the world of legal mediation, shows real evidence of working in schools. Using restorative tactics, Lyons decreased its suspension rate by more than 20 percent since 2008.

Now Lyons is part of a growing national movement of educators offering a practical alternative to harsh “zero tolerance” school discipline policies, which proliferated in the wake of the 1999 shootings at Columbine High School in Colorado. Though the Columbine massacre was perpetrated by two white students at a majority-white, suburban school, it is urban students of color who have shouldered the heaviest burdens of the zero-tolerance push. Those kids have the most to gain from radically upending how school discipline gets done.”

Read the rest here.

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Alternatives to Calling Police on Young People – Amazing Popular Education Project, “Chain Reaction”

“Chain Reaction” is a unique popular education project that supports alternatives to calling police on young people – it elevates the voices and perspectives of youth through audio, visuals, a toolkit and much more. Check it out here.

“Chain Reaction is a participatory research and popular education project with the goal of supporting conversations about alternatives to calling police on young people. Listen to our audio or watch our videos that feature youth in Chicago telling their own stories about policing, or check out our growing toolkit of other resources. And we have audio FAQs for your listening pleasure.

When police intervene in situations involving youth, ranging from loitering and petty crimes to more severe violence, police involvement typically sets off a chain of events that can have far-reaching effects on a young person’s life. Chain Reaction is a volunteer-run, youth-driven project that aims to interrupt that chain reaction in the city of Chicago. The project is complete for the moment, and this website is the result of our efforts.

We started by documenting these effects from the perspective of young people in Chicago who have had direct encounters with police.

Then we hosted listening session, asking people to reflect upon a set of questions within the context of their own communities:

1. What is the chain reaction that we would ideally like to create in response to fear, violence, or harm?

2. What resources do we already have in our communities to begin this chain reaction?

3. What alternatives to calling police exist for those considering relying on police interventions with young people?

4. What alternatives would we like to create?

Finally, Chain Reaction created a curriculum so that others can replicate this project and use it to explore alternatives to policing in your own own communities.

Founded in 2011, Chain Reaction is a volunteer-run initiative of Project NIA, which is a Chicago community organization with the goal of ending youth incarceration. Find out how we work and how to do a project like this one in your own community.”

Taken from the ‘About‘ section.

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“Campaign for Restorative Justice Gains Ground in Santa Ana”

Voice of OC:

“Santa Ana activists have been on a mission to have government leaders transform the way they deal with youths who commit crimes.

And on Monday evening, their effort took another step forward.

At a meeting of the city’s Public Safety and Neighborhood Improvement Committee, three City Council members signaled their support for a restorative justice pilot program centered on community conferencing.

Instead of being sent straight to juvenile hall, a select number of youth offenders would be given a chance to meet face-to-face with their victims and work to repair the damage they’ve caused.

Proponents say the approach has been proven to reduce offenders’ chances of committing crimes again, in addition to healing broken trust within communities and preventing damage from future offenses.

“Data shows that they are less likely to re-offend” after going through this process, said Rafael Solorzano, a coordinator with Santa Ana Boys and Men of Color.

Speaking on behalf of his group and The California Endowment, Solorzano gave a detailed presentation on restorative justice to city officials, saying it’s a model that many Santa Ana community members want to see the city move toward.

“We have to have a culture shift, a paradigm shift” around what questions we ask when kids commit wrongdoing, he said.

Restorative justice calls for having offenders recognize and repair the harm created by their crimes and address the needs of their victims instead of focusing primarily on punishment.

Council members said that while they still have some questions to resolve, they’re generally in favor of the effort.

“I am very supportive. I think it is needed,” said Councilwoman Michele Martinez, who added that her brother went to juvenile hall as a boy before cycling in and out of jail and prison.

“And now as a 32-year-old, 33-year-old, he has not been able in many respects to understand what it is to live in a society that we all live in … because he’s been incarcerated so much,” Martinez said.”

Read the rest here.

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“Youth Incarceration Is Down But Not For Youth Of Color”

“OAKLAND, Calif., April 1, 2014 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — The National Council on Crime and Delinquency (NCCD) has published a series of reports regarding the dramatic reduction of youth incarceration rates in most US states. The latest data from the US Justice Department showed that the rate of youth in confinement dropped 41% between 2001 and 2011. Since 2001, 48 states have experienced such a decline.

Yet, despite the overall reduction in incarceration rates among youth, much higher percentages of youth of color remain under formal supervision and in state secure facilities. Dr. Angela Irvine, an author of the study and the director of research in NCCD’s Oakland office, said, “States across the country have been successful at reducing the overall numbers of youth in the juvenile justice system. At the same time, youth of color have jumped from 68% to 81% of all youth sentenced in juvenile court. In order to reverse this trend, we will have to find solutions that we’ve never tried before on a large scale—solutions that come from the communities most impacted by incarceration.”

NCCD collected information for the study through interviews and listening sessions involving than 140 key stakeholders, who were well-versed in research that exposes the problems associated with unnecessary contact with the juvenile justice system.”
Read the rest here.

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“At Reedley (CA) High School, Suspensions Drop 40%, Expulsions 80% In Two Years”

Social Justice Solutions: “In 2009, when the Kings Canyon Unified School District in California’s rural Central Valley offered its 19 schools the opportunity to adopt a system that would reduce school suspensions and expulsions, Reedley High School jumped at the chance.

Today, Reedley is in its fourth year of changing a zero-tolerance policy that has failed this school and community miserably, just as every zero-tolerance policy across the country has. The school, which has 1,900 students, is feeling its way out of those draconian days by integrating PBIS — Positive Behavioral Interventions and Support — and entering into a unique partnership with the West Coast Mennonite Central Committee and the local police department to implement a successful restorative justice program.

This approach is already having remarkable effect. The school saw a 40% drop in suspensions from the 2010-2011 to the 2012-2013 school year — from 401 to 249 suspensions involving198 and 80 students, respectively. Expulsions went from 94 in 2010-2011 to 20 last year. But this year’s trends indicate that impressive decline may have stalled out.

Although everyone interviewed for this story – including the principal, learning director, and a teacher — says that suspensions don’t work, Reedley is still stuck with a harsh suspension policy that the district and the school board have barely loosened. Although the district was forward-thinking enough to support program changes and the school is beginning to deliver, like any entrenched system, the old ways of discipline pull hard against change, even if the data and the science that show the old ways damage kids are indisputable.

“It’s been a journey,” says Mary Ann Carousso head of student services. “We’re taking it in pieces.”


The sprawling Reedley High School campus includes an auditorium, library, and five hexagonal and several rectangular rows of classrooms around a large two-story building. On a clear winter day, the snow-capped Sierra Mountains form a stunning backdrop. As in most large high schools, adults barely corral the high-octane teen energy that erupts across the plaza between classes, and struggle to ignite and channel it during classes. The school draws as many students from the city of 25,000 as it does from the agricultural farming country it serves – nearly 80% are Latino, 16% are white, 1.5% are Asian, 1% are Filipino, and 0.7% are African-American. About 65% come from families that live just above, at, or below poverty level. The nearest city, Fresno, is 25 miles distant and worlds away.

Like most school districts in California, Kings Canyon adopted a zero-tolerance policy in the late 1990s. Just one year after the U.S. Congress passed the Gun-Free Schools Act of 1994, theadoption of broad zero-tolerance policies spread like a virus across the United States. Once zero tolerance was locked in, school boards, districts, teachers and principals warped it, some say, by the pressure to perform well on tests. Kick the troublemakers out, and there’s less disruption and interruption in class.

But in the mid-2000s, data began showing that zero tolerance wasn’t working. In fact, it was shunting kids into a school-to-prison pipeline that disproportionately targets minorities. The research, the U.S. Office of Civil Rights and the American Civil Liberties Unionconvinced people at the Fresno County Office of Education to look for alternatives for its 32 districts, which include Kings County.

“The research was constantly telling us that even one suspension could put a kid down a path we don’t want them on,” says Carousso. Providing reports to the U.S. Office of Civil Rights and being watched by the ACLU also put Fresno County on notice. “Even though I’m not always glad of it,” Carousso says of the ACLU, “they point out things we should be aware of.”

The program that Fresno County settled on was PBIS, which is used in more than 20,011 schools nationwide; more than 700 of those are in California. In essence, says Carousso, PBIS helps the entire school system — teachers, administrators, janitors, bus drivers, cafeteria workers — “set up kids for success first, instead of ‘gotcha’. It sounds hokey. It sounds corny.” But it works…to a point.”

Read the rest here.


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Radio Times: Experts & Educators Discuss Suspensions, Expulsions & Arrests of Minority Students

Radio Times: “Guests: Harold Jordan, Deborah Klehr and Matthew Steinberg

New information released by the Department of Education shed more light on a disturbing difference when it comes to school discipline — minority students are suspended at a much higher rate than white students. The same applies to expulsions and harsher punishments and the problem is particularly acute in Pennsylvania. With more research to show that zero tolerance policies are ineffective, some educators are rethinking the whys and hows of school discipline. In this hour of Radio Times we’ll talk about the issues around suspensions, expulsions and even arrests, particularly when it comes to minority students. Our guests are HAROLD JORDAN of the ACLU of PennsylvaniaDEBORAH KLEHR of the Education Law Center, and University of Pennsylvania education professor MATTHEW STEINBERG.”

Click here to listen.


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Classroom exclusion starts as early as preschool

Electronic Urban Report:

“Between the Lines: Report on Increasing Black Student Class Exclusions is Troubling

*Last week, a new report offered a renewed look at a persistent problem in how public education is failing our children.

Disproportionately excluding black children from the classroom, through suspensions, expulsions and non-learning “holding rooms,” are a glaring problem in U.S. public schools. The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights released new data that suggests that suspension/expulsion problem, which we all knew existed in LAUSD, was deeper than we ever suspected.

While previous data focused on the race gaps and exclusion disparities of middle and high school systems, this latest study found that out of class exclusions are continuing to be a K through 12 problem—regardless of grade level, across public school systems, nationwide.

Okay…so what else is new? Well, here’s what’s new and it’s shocker…

The new study reports that classroom exclusion starts as early as preschool.

That’s right… preschool.

If you’re not shocked, you should be.

Even the Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, is. The study shows that black children in preschool enrollment—and only 60% of the nation’s school districts even have pre-schools—represent 42% of students suspended, even though they represent only 18% of the preschool population. Nobody saw this coming. What’s wrong with this picture, everybody?

Well, what is wrong is that, according to the study, students that are suspended once—are more likely to be suspended again, and thus—are less likely to graduate. Students least likely to graduate, are most likely to dropout. Dropouts are most likely to become involved in criminal behavior, and are the leading targets for perpetual imprisonment.”

Read the rest here.

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National Education Association Promotes Restorative Justice in Schools & Have Released a New Toolkit

National Education Association:

NEA and Partners Promote Restorative Justice in Schools

“Educators cannot stand by as tens of thousands of African-American, Latino, and other students get pushed out of school for minor disciplinary infractions, said NEA President Dennis Van Roekel, who on Friday helped release a new toolkit that aims to end the “school-to-prison pipeline” through the use of restorative policies and practices.

“Far too many of our most vulnerable students are excluded from class for minor, non-violent behavior,” cautions Van Roekel, “putting them at great risk for academic failure and an unnecessary journey down the school-to-prison pipeline. And far too many educators lack the support and resources to meet their students’ developmental needs.”

The racial disparities start at a shockingly early age. According to a new U.S. Education Department study,Black 4- and 5-year-old students account for almost half of the preschoolers suspended more than once from school, even though they make up just 18 percent of preschool students. Overall, federal data shows that Black students of all ages are 3.5 times more likely to be suspended or expelled than White students.

The consequences are huge: Even a single suspension greatly increases the odds of students repeating a grade, dropping out of school, and ending up in the criminal justice system. What’s more, a closer look at the data shows that students of color, as well as LGBT youth and children with disabilities, are more likely to be suspended, expelled, or arrested for behaviors that go undisciplined in their White peers. Research also shows that White students are more likely to be suspended or expelled for “observable” offenses, like fighting or drug possession, while Black students are much more likely to be disciplined for less objective offenses, like “disrespect.””

Read the rest here.

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“Sensible Policy, Not Smaller Handcuffs”

ACLU: “You may have heard recently about Dontadrian Bruce, the Mississippi high-school student who was almost expelled for holding up the number “3″ with his fingers in a photo taken by his science teacher. Dontradian is number 3 on the football team – and despite his being an A/B student with no history of serious disciplinary problems, the school said he was making a gang sign.

This isn’t the first time the school district has been quick to label a Black student a “gang member.” And in fact the unnecessarily harsh treatment of students of color for misbehavior—or perceived misbehavior—at school is a huge problem across the country. Too many young people are being pushed out of school and into the juvenile and criminal justice systems instead of given the chance to learn from their mistakes. This phenomenon is frequently referred to as the school-to-prison-pipeline.

New data from the federal government, released on Friday, shows just how serious the problem is—and highlights how students of color and those with disabilities are being systematically denied access to education. According to the new data, during the 2011-2012 school year, Black students were suspended and expelled at a rate three times greater than white students. And students with disabilities were more than twice as likely to receive an out-of-school suspension than their non-disabled peers. Both groups of students were also disproportionately likely to be referred to law enforcement and arrested at school.”

Read the rest here.

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14 Disturbing Stats About Racial Inequality in American Public Schools

The Nation: “Comprehensive data released Friday by the US Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights offers a striking glance at the extent of racial inequality plaguing the nation’s education system.

Analysts found that black, Latino and Native American students have less access to advanced math and science courses and are more likely to be taught by first-year instructors than white students. Black and Native American students are also suspended and expelled at disproportionate rates.

For the first time in history, the Education Department also examined school discipline at the pre-K level, finding that black students as young as four years old are already facing unequal treatment from school administrators.

The Education Department released four papers with the data, analyzing inequality in school disciplineearly learningcollege readiness and teacher equity (pdfs). Here’s a breakdown of some of the key findings, taken straight from those papers. During the 2011–12 school year:

  1. Black students accounted for 18 percent of the country’s pre-K enrollment, but made up 48 percent of preschoolers with multiple out-of-school suspensions.
  2. Black students were expelled at three times the rate of white students.
  3. American Indian and Native-Alaskan students represented less than 1 percent of students, but 3 percent of expulsions.”

Read the rest of the findings here.

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