† 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. Kay Whitlock, co-author of Queer (In)Justice, is contributing editor of CI. Criminal Injustice is published every Wednesday at 6 pm.
Decriminalizing School Discipline: How to Stop the School to Prison Pipeline at The Source
by nancy a heitzeg
Last week, I had the privilege of participating on this panel at the American Bar Association Midyear Meeting: “The School-to-Prison Pipeline: What are the Problems? What are the Solutions?” The event was jointly sponsored by the ABA’s Coalition on Racial and Ethnic Justice, the Criminal Justice Section and the Counsel for Racial and Ethnic Diversity in the Educational Pipeline. Panelists included the Reverend Janette C. Wilson of RainbowPUSH; Dr. Artika Tyner, a clinical law professor and diversity director at the University of St. Thomas School of Law; Mariame Kaba of Project NIA and Prison Culture; Robert Saunooke, chair of the ABA’s Tribal Courts Council, and Julie Biehl, Director of Children and Family Justice Center, Northwestern University Law School.
The panel was a call for lawyers, educators, everyone to take whatever actions they could to interrupt the school to prison pipeline. In particular, emphasis was placed on the role of the new Federal Guidelines on School Climate and Discipline and the opportunity offered now to move away from decades of zero tolerance. The piece below, written for Praeger/ABC-CLIO Publishing’s on-line series Enduring Questions, highlights the role of zero tolerance policies and police in the schools, both key policy cornerstones in the school to prison pipeline.
Over the years, Criminal InJustice has written much on this topic, in part, with the hope that this may be the a pathway into a larger social critique of the prison industrial complex which impels it. It has been my experience that however deep the commitment some have to “law and order”, to the harsh policing and punishment of adults, the school to prison pipeline gives many pause. There is something so shocking, so fundamentally unfair about the notion of children, increasingly young, being policed in the pursuit of an education, being criminalized for mere childish misbehavior. It is so unfair it can sometimes shine a light back on the entire system that it is designed to feed.
So let it now.