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CI: Schoolhouse/Jailhouse

March 14, 2012 at 7:01 pm by: nancy a heitzeg Category: Anti-Racism, Civil Rights, Criminal Defense, Criminal Injustice Series, Prison Industrial Complex, White Privilege

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Criminal InJustice is a weekly series devoted to taking action against inequities in the U.S. criminal justice system. Nancy A. Heitzeg, Professor of Sociology and Race/Ethnicity, is the Editor of CI. Criminal InJustice is published every Wednesday at 6 pm CST.

Schoolhouse/Jailhouse
by nancy a. heitzeg

Earlier today, i had the honor of being listed amongst presenters at the fifth annual symposium hosted by a local law school; the topic, How Are The Children Part V: From the Classroom to the Courtroom, Exploring a Child’s Journey through the Justice System.

The short answer — Not Good. Not good that is if you are a student of color in an under-resourced, over-policed inner city school.

For more than ten years now, scholars, activists, educators, juvenile justice personnel and parents have been discussing the so-called School to Prison Pipeline All this discussion has not produced meaningful policy changes that result in the lessening of the flow of youth of color from schools into legal systems.

As a recent report from the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights indicates, the pipeline is alive and gushing an increasing number of youth of color out of school and into jail:

Although black students made up only 18 percent of those enrolled in the schools sampled, they accounted for 35 percent of those suspended once, 46 percent of those suspended more than once and 39 percent of all expulsions..

One in five black boys and more than one in 10 black girls received an out-of-school suspension. Over all, black students were three and a half times as likely to be suspended or expelled than their white peers.

And in districts that reported expulsions under zero-tolerance policies, Hispanic and black students represent 45 percent of the student body, but 56 percent of those expelled under such policies.

When will this be considered a national emergency??

Zero Tolerance and the School to Prison Pipeline

While schools have long been characterized by both formal and informal tracks that route students into various areas of the curriculum, tracking students out of school and into jail is a new phenomenon. Current policies have increased the risk of students being suspended, expelled, and/or arrested at school. Youth of color in particular are at increased risk for being “pushed out” of schools – pushed out into the streets, into the juvenile justice system, and/or into adult prisons and jails. This pattern has become so pronounced that scholars, child advocates, and community activists now refer to it as “the school to prison pipeline”, the “schoolhouse to jailhouse track”, or as younger and younger students are targeted,“cradle to prison track”.

The school to prison pipeline does not exist in a vacuum. It is deeply connected to a socio-political climate that is increasingly fearful and punitive. While media and the rise of the prison industrial complex create the context, shifts in educational policy provide the immediate impetus for the flow of children from school to legal systems. The school to prison pipeline is facilitated by several trends in education that most negatively impact students of color. These include growing poverty rates and declining school funding, re-segregation of schools by race and class, under-representation of students of color in advanced placement courses and over-presentation in special education tracks, No Child Left Behind , high stakes testing, and rising drop-out/push -out rates.

The primary factor, however, is increased reliance on zero tolerance policies, which play an immediate and integral role in feeding the school to prison pipeline. While there is no official definition of the term zero tolerance, generally the term means that a harsh predefined mandatory consequence is applied to a violation of school rules without regard to the ―seriousness of the behavior, mitigating circumstances, or the situational context.

The Gun-free Schools Act of 1994 (GFSA) provided the initial impetus for zero tolerance policies. The GFSA mandates that all schools that receive federal funding must 1) have policies to expel for a calendar year any student who brings a firearm to school or to school zone, and 2) report that student to local law enforcement, thereby blurring any distinction between disciplinary infractions at school and the law. Subsequent amendments to The GFSA and changes in many state laws and local school district regulations broadened the GFSA focus on firearms to apply to many other kinds of weapons.

Most schools have adopted zero-tolerance policies for a variety of behavioral issues- largely directed towards weapons, alcohol/drugs, threatening behavior, and fighting on school premises, and as the name implies, indicate zero-tolerance for any infractions. In addition, a growing number of school districts also have an increased security presence at school. It has become routine for districts to assign staff/volunteers to monitor halls and bathrooms, equip staff with communication devices, use metal detectors and cameras, and have uniformed security guards or police present. It is less common, but also possible now for some schools to employ canine units, Tasers, and SWAT team raids for drug and weapons searches.

Zero tolerance policies generally involve harsh disciplinary consequences such as long-term and/or permanent suspension or expulsion for violations, and often arrest and referral to juvenile or adult court. While the original intent of The GFSA was to require these punishments for serious violations involving weapons, they have frequently been applied to minor or non-violent violations of rules such as tardiness and disorderly conduct. Zero-tolerance policies do not distinguish between serious and non-serious offenses, nor do they adequately separate intentional troublemakers from those with behavioral disorders. They cast a very wide net; students have been suspended and or expelled for nail clippers, Advil and mouthwash. In an excerpt from his new book, Youth is a Suspect Society,Henry Giroux highlights some cases.

the recent high-profile case of Zachary Christie, a 6-year old first grader who received a 45-day suspension because he brought to school his favorite Cub Scott camping utensil, which can serve as a knife, fork and spoon. Rather than be treated as a young boy who made a simple mistake, he was treated by the school as a suspect who deserved to be punished.

One typical example includes the case of an 8-year-old boy in the first grade at a Miami elementary school who took a table knife to his school, using it to rob a classmate of $1 in lunch money. School officials claimed he was facing “possible expulsion and charges of armed robbery.

In another instance that took place in December 2004, “Porsche, a fourth-grade student at a Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, elementary school, was yanked out of class, handcuffed, taken to the police station and held for eight hours for bringing a pair of eight-inch scissors to school. She had been using the scissors to work on a school project at home. School district officials acknowledged that the girl was not using the scissors as a weapon or threatening anyone with them, but scissors qualified as a potential weapon under state law.”

in February 2003, a 7-year-old boy was cuffed, shackled and forced to lie face down for more than an hour while being restrained by a security officer at Parker Community Academy on the Southwest Side. Neither the principal nor the assistant principal came to the aid of the first grader, who was so traumatized by the event he was not able to return to school.

Zero Tolerance, Racial Disparity and Long -term Consequences

Zero tolerance policies have proliferated without evidence that they actually improve school safety and security. In theory, zero-tolerance policies are intended to have a deterrent effect for intentionally troublesome students, i.e. the mere presence of the policies is intended to thwart disruptive behavior. But, as with harsh penalties for juvenile and criminal justice, zero tolerance was adopted and expanded in lieu of data supporting either effectiveness or need. They do increase rates of expulsion, elevate drop-out rates, and deny due process and equal protection for students. There is also evidence that they contribute to the school to prison pipeline. According to the Advancement Project

Zero tolerance has engendered a number of problems: denial of education through increased suspension and expulsion rates, referrals to inadequate alternative schools, lower test scores, higher dropout rates, and racial profiling of students…… Once many of these youths are in “the system,” they never get back on the academic track. Sometimes, schools refuse to readmit them; and even if these students do return to school, they are often labeled and targeted for close monitoring by school staff and police. Consequently, many become demoralized, drop out, and fall deeper and deeper into the juvenile or criminal justice systems. Those who do not drop out may find that their discipline and juvenile or criminal records haunt them when they apply to college or for a scholarship or government grant, or try to enlist in the military or find employment. In some places, a criminal record may prevent them or their families from residing in publicly subsidized housing. In this era of zero tolerance, the consequences of child or adolescent behaviors may long outlive students’ teenage years.

And of course these policies are enforced in ways that magnify racial disparities in both school discipline and in the juvenile justice system. Students of color, especially African Americans, are much more likely than their white counter-parts to be suspended or expelled from school for disciplinary reasons. This trend does not appear to be correlated with actual racial/ethnic differences in disruptive classroom behaviors.

Prior to the release of the most recent Department of Education data, an earlier study by the Chicago Tribune revealed similar racial disparities. Nationally, black students are being suspended in numbers greater than would be expected from their proportion of the student population. Rates of suspension and expulsion for Latino/as are somewhat higher than expected but black students bear the brunt of these policies. In 21 states that dis-proportionality is so pronounced that the percentage of black suspensions is more than double their percentage of the student body. In some states, black students are expelled at 6 times the rate of whites, with certain district showing rates that are more than 10 times. On average across the nation, black students are suspended and expelled at nearly three times the rate of white students. While African American students make up 17% of all school age youth, they account for 37% of suspensions and 35% of all expulsions.

The over-representation of black males in both drop-out rates and incarceration then is consistent with these patterns and largely attributable to them. According to the Advancement Project -

Despite no real differences in participation in crime, African Americans, while representing 17% of the youth population, account for 45% of all juvenile arrests. Black youth are 2 times more likely than white youth to be arrested, to be referred to juvenile court, to be formally processed and adjudicated as delinquent or referred to the adult criminal justice system, and they are 3 times more likely than white youth to be sentenced to out-of –home residential placement. Nationally, 1 in 3 Black and 1 in 6 Latino boys born in 2001 are at risk of imprisonment during their lifetime…. Because higher rates of suspensions and expulsions are likely to lead to higher rates of juvenile incarceration, it is not surprising that black and Latino youths are disproportionately represented among young people held in juvenile prisons

The costs are enormous – in lost lives, decimated communities and yes in tax dollars. Again from the NY Times, the results of a disturbing but unsurprising new study from Northeastern University,

On any given day, about one in every 10 young male high school dropouts is in jail or juvenile detention, compared with one in 35 young male high school graduates, according to a new study of the effects of dropping out of school in an America where demand for low-skill workers is plunging.

The picture is even bleaker for African-Americans, with nearly one in four young black male dropouts incarcerated or otherwise institutionalized on an average day, the study said. That compares with about one in 14 young, male, white, Asian or Hispanic dropouts….

Previous studies have come up with estimates of the same order of magnitude on the social cost of low graduation rates. A 2007 study by Teachers College, Princeton and City University of New York researchers, for instance, estimated that society could save $209,000 in prison and other costs for every potential dropout who could be helped to complete high school.

Education Not Incarceration

It is long past time to end the practice of funneling children – especially black and brown children – out of schools and into prisons and jails. It is racist, classist, costly and counter-productive. It is systemic discrimination of the most insidious sort. In Schools and the Pedagogy of Punishment, Giroux leaves us with a question and a call to action.

How much longer can a nation ignore those youth who lack the resources and opportunities that were available, in a partial and incomplete way, to previous generations? And what does it mean when a nation becomes frozen ethically and imaginatively in providing its youth with a future of hope and opportunity? Under such circumstances, it is time for parents, young people, educators, writers, labor unions and social movements to take a stand and to remind themselves that not only do young people deserve more, but so does an aspiring democracy that has any sense of justice, vision, and hope for the future

Please heed it.

Resources

ABA Alternatives to Zero Tolerance

Zero Tolerance Zero Evidence

Advancement Project Action Kit

Children’s Defense Fund Cradle to Prison Campaign

ACLU Freedom to Learn

NAACP Dismantling the School to Prison Pipeline

45 comments
NevilleRoss
NevilleRoss

This happened to me in the 1980s in Canada, well before the zero-tolerance laws were adapted (I was 'dropped out' of the school system after spending two semesters in a private school that was later found out to be a fraud, and then was not allowed back in for the remainder of the time I was 17, not being able to graduate from high school and ending up in programs for people with mental illness which has persisted to the present day).

I frankly think that school itself is overrated as a construct and is only good for the first few years of life (beyond learning your ABC's and 1-2-3's, it's useless.) I'd like to see it replaced by another system, or by kids educating themselves ala the Teenage Liberation Handbook, but until such a set of changes happens, we're stuck with what we've got.

What we need to do is get rid of these laws and go back to what we had before (we also need better news media so that laws like these don't get passed due to excessive coverage of events like Columbine, but that's for another time.) We also need better funding across the board for education in North America generally, and we also need to deal better with children that have disabilities who are in the system.

Vikki
Vikki

thank you for this thoughtful post. police are increasingly being called in to resolve matters that used to be handled (or dismissed) by school staff. while i was on tour, i learned about the proposterous arrest of a student for allegedly stealing chicken nuggets from the cafeteria (a friend, who receives free school lunch, gave him his chicken nuggets. a cafeteria worker called the school's resource officer (part of the city's police department)on him. the officer called in a 2nd police squad. all over chicken nuggets!). charges were dropped, but only after his sister and other advocates organized community protests around not only his arrest and charges against him, but the increasing policing and criminalization of students (particularly students of color): http://www.wisn.com/r/24317843/detail.html

 

However, what happens to the hundreds/thousands of kids who are criminalized who don't have people in their lives who know their rights and know how to organize? (Not to detract from the fact that Hernandez's sister and others in the community managed to ensure that he didn't end up in the prison pipeline over a couple of chicken nuggets)

 

I would be interested in follow-up conversations about what students, families and youth advocates are doing to fight this pipeline.

 

for a world without cages,

vikki

 

p.s. apologies for the lack of caps. i fractured my shoulder and so typing is a bit of a chore. but i didn't want to stay out of the discussion altogether!

http://www.wisn.com/r/24317843/detail.html

Panyia
Panyia

Being  watched at from many angles at school seems like prison already.  Don't you think this is one of the reason why there are so many students who are not interested in becoming educated?  Education with the criminal justice system has not made minorities, student of colors, improve grades or do better in school but rather has made education more of a burden then it should already be. 

Heather Ellis
Heather Ellis

The thing that i feel is over looked by the law makers  is that the system is the thing that is broken, not the children that they are forcing out of the schools. The zero tolerance policies have a potential to help keep schools safe, but not when they are used to discriminate against students of color.

-Heather

PatriciaLevesque
PatriciaLevesque

The amazing disconnect here, in my view, is that the government is increasingly willing to admit that the problem exists, yet continues to throw money at "solutions" that do not work.  How many armed police officers in school do they think will solve the issue?

MK
MK

Nancy, excellent as usual.  This is an area that I have great concern about especially here in Chicago.  We just released a study about policing in Chicago Public Schools to expose how many school-based arrests are happening.  I agree with you that the school to prison pipeline cannot be addressed however without a general focus on the carceral state.  I also wonder whether we are not better off using the term cradle to prison pipeline to focus on the fact that there is a disinvestment that occurs in the lives of children from the start....  This is a great piece and I have tweeted and shared it.

KayWhitlock
KayWhitlock

For over a dozen years, the research has been telling us about the racist impacts of so-called "Zero Tolerance."  And we know so much about how the school to prison pipeline functions and expands.  So many interrelated factors/injustices combine to produce mass incarceration of the young, particularly youth of color who are low income.

 

Slavery by another name...

nancy a heitzeg
nancy a heitzeg

it is clearer to me -- even more so today - that the school to prison pipeline cannot be addressed all by itself..

 

we must confront the PIC, which the pipeline exists to service

nancy a heitzeg
nancy a heitzeg

sorry to hear about your shoulder vikki :)

 

but great to see you..

 

yes the excesses are stunning

 

 

KayWhitlock
KayWhitlock

Ouch, Vikki - you fractured your shoulder?  Sending healing energy//vibes your way. 

 

Well said - the increasing use of police to resolve matters typically handled or dismissed by school staff. 

 

I think most people don't know their rights and how to organize resistance to this police state in the schools phenomenon.

 

Let's keep this discussion going.

KayWhitlock
KayWhitlock

 @Panyia Yes, the constant Gaze of police authority has got to have multiple impacts, both short and long term. 

KayWhitlock
KayWhitlock

 @Heather Ellis So right about the system being broken.

 

I respectfully would disagree with you that zero tolerance policies have the potential to keep schools safe.  I don't think "get tough" ever really addresses the root problems of justice and safety because structural racism, class bias, and gender inequality are embedded in the very structures that not only frame but enforce the laws.  This happens both consciousl and (often) unconscious ways. 

 

I'd love for our society to think more imaginatively about how to nurture just relationships and nonviolence in schools and other basic social institutions.

nancy a heitzeg
nancy a heitzeg

 @Heather Ellis hi heather

 

the zero tolerance policies were taken to far extremes -- the intention of the GFSA was not bad but as i hear today kids being charged for toe-nail clippers is beyond the pale

KayWhitlock
KayWhitlock

Yes, MK, you are so right - a disinvestment in the lives of children, especially children of color, from the start.   Children's Defense Fund uses "cradle to prison pipeline," and I think that is accurate.

nancy a heitzeg
nancy a heitzeg

thank you MK!

 

and yes i agree -- cradle to prison comes closer to capturing the magnitude of the problem

 

Much gratitude as always for everything you do

KayWhitlock
KayWhitlock

 @Robinswing Isn't SistahSpeak appearing in a new incarnation on its own blog soon, Robinswing?

nancy a heitzeg
nancy a heitzeg

 @KayWhitlock yes -- including the ugly impact on a growing number of children with incarcerated parents

 

Never -ending troubl3

Heather Ellis
Heather Ellis

 @nancy a heitzeg Yes I have even heard of one student being expelled for having a box cutter sitting in his car. The box cutter did not even belong to him and was left in his car when his mother borrowed it  the night before. 

 

I completely agree that the polices are taken too far and need to be reavaluated in how they are are being carried out.

PatriciaLevesque
PatriciaLevesque

 @nancy a heitzeg You know I'd agree to that!!  But I would be happy to see a quarter of the money they spend on police on some school programs.  Mentoring, tutoring, bring back music and athletics (outside of the money makers like football and basketball).  How do you get the community to get involved?

 

MK
MK

 @KayWhitlock Hi Kay, hope you are doing well this evening. Yes I agree that CDF's coining of that term helps us in theorizing this phenomenon.

nancy a heitzeg
nancy a heitzeg

 @KayWhitlock thanks for  that Kay

 

the resegrgeation of schools is a major piece of this

 

btw there was a SRO there today ho claimed that police in school improved police - community relations and increased the positive view of police aming children

 

What BS!!

PatriciaLevesque
PatriciaLevesque

 @nancy a heitzeg It''s a similar issue to the fundamental problem with zero tolerance, in an effort to limit the risk of some they deny all.

 

Does that make sense?  It did in my head... 

Heather Ellis
Heather Ellis

 @nancy a heitzeg  @PatriciaLevesque I think it is our job as citizens and members of the community to step up and make sure OUR tax dollars are going to the things that are important to us, such as having mentoring programs,tutoring etc. If we don't hold the law makes accountable by voting, and voicing our opinions then they will do what ever they feel like based on their own interests.

 

nancy a heitzeg
nancy a heitzeg

 @PatriciaLevesque Communities are often trying to be involved -- lots of evidence of that today -- but are blocked out

 

How do you get Law makers to re-think ther short-sighted policies? That s the real challenge

KayWhitlock
KayWhitlock

Doing very well, thanks, MK.  And you?  (Besides being way too busy.)

nancy a heitzeg
nancy a heitzeg

 @KayWhitlock and NCLB has added another dimension of stress to already under-resourced schools

 

Who the hell would even want to turn up at school with police patroling the halllways??

 

Not me

KayWhitlock
KayWhitlock

 @nancy a heitzeg Hooray for adding armed police to schools with zero tolerance policies while multicultural education and the arts are gutted, class size increases, and neighborhood schools are closed.

Trackbacks

  1. […] critique of zero tolerance policies, the criminalization of education, and the creation of a school to prison pipeline. The Departments jointly issued extensive new guidelines urging schools to abandon zero tolerance […]

  2. […] Of course, the conflation of crime and poverty has also been predicated on a conflation of race with both poverty and crime.  In particular, Black Women have been constructed as the archetypical welfare recipient, a long standing stereotype embodied in contemporary times in Ronald Reagan’s mythical “Welfare Queen”.  Gendered racism then underlies much of the current effort to criminalize poverty, which reflects a pattern that can be seen child welfare/foster care systems as well in the criminalization of education via the school to prison pipeline. […]