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School-to-Prison Pipeline

By Pamela Wood-Garcia

Painting by Susan Kricorian

Painting by Susan Kricorian


     With the 2017-2018 school year upon us, we are faced with the fact that we are living amid a socioeconomic regression. The current White House administration has all but vanquished the hope for any kind of reform that benefits people of color. This includes education and prison reform. With Betsy DeVos at the helm of the country’s entire public education system and Jeff Sessions dissecting our criminal justice system, much of the reform that took place during the Obama Administration is literally being reversed. Because of this, we can expect the school-to-prison pipeline to be flooded with even more of the hottest commodity on Wall Street: inmates.

     Shares of privatized prison stock are traded daily in America, just like shares of Amazon or Facebook. There is a big difference between what keeps each type of stock viable. The difference is that with Amazon and Facebook, shares of stock go up and down based on sales; but with privatized prisons, the stock goes up and down based on the number of inmates incarcerated at each facility. This form of trading relies heavily on the education system and criminal justice system failing people of color. This overlapping of government and industry is referred to as The Prison Industrial Complex. This phenomenon, which takes human life and turns it into profit, is fueled by the school-to-prison pipeline.

     As Moms of school aged Black Boys, we need to know exactly how the school-to-prison pipeline stacks up against our sons. The school-to-prison pipeline is described by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) as being a disturbing national trend wherein children are funneled out of public schools and into the juvenile and criminal justice systems. This trend is accomplished by way of several devices: Zero Tolerance laws, racial disparities, school resource officers, Individual Education Plans (IEPs), and parents who don't know their rights.

      Let’s take the time to be open and honest about what American schools are like for most boys and young men of color. Our boys usually have at least one teacher who has an amazing smile and an outstanding record amongst peers for being a stellar educator. This teacher usually is not a person of color and always states that he or she loves having your boy in the class but constantly complains that your child is extremely disruptive. Your child claims he is not doing anything that varies from what other students are doing, yet this teacher wants to put your child on a behavior contract. This way, if your child has a good day, he gets a treat; but if he has a bad day, he gets marks against him in his cumulative file, a permanent record that will follow him into college. Teachers like this usually hone in on children of color with IEPs > and non-apparent disabilities. What was just described is covert racism in the classroom. The Respect Institute has documentation that shows that schools are the main place where hate incidents and racism occur. If a child is on a behavior contract, it makes it easy to implement Zero Tolerance policies when the opportunity is presented.

     Zero Tolerance policies were established in the late nineties. These policies place unrealistic responsibility on young people maneuvering their way through their childhood and teenage years. These policies are strict and rigid and leave no room for principals or other school administrators to deal with student conflict with any type of discretion. There are no discussions about certain behaviors on a case-by-case, student-by-student basis. Instead, violations of  Zero Tolerance policies, which include possession of illegal drugs on campus, possession of a weapon on campus, smoking on campus, or fighting on campus, lead to out-of-school suspension or expulsion for first-time offenders. Many times, these incidents are referred to school police officers, which sometimes leads to arrests and trips to youth detention facilities. All of this for simple childhood mistakes that could have been handled by a principal or school counselor. The majority of people receiving these infractions are Black or Brown students on IEPs and/or those who have non-apparent disabilities and disorders. Examples of non-apparent disabilities and disorders are attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder, dyslexia, bipolar disorder, and post traumatic stress disorder. These disorders coupled with poor grades and racial disparities cause the school-to-prison pipeline to work in a way that has kept the number of Black students in the juvenile criminal justice system at an all time high for the past 20 years.

     Based on data from both the ACLU and the Center On Youth Justice, Black students are suspended three times more frequently than their White counterparts. The ACLU also noted that Black students who are suspended or expelled for discretionary infractions are three times more likely than White students to have contact with the juvenile justice system the following year. This process gets students documented and guided into America’s abyss of a criminal justice system early. Genevieve Jones-Wright, a Black public defense attorney and candidate for San Diego County’s District Attorney’s Office, gave MOBB United for Social change (MUSC) some very powerful advice. “There is a direct connection between students who are given harsh disciplinary sanctions by schools and those who enter the juvenile justice system. And these students are predominantly students of color. The school-to-prison pipeline ushers our babies into the criminal justice system where they are prepared for jail and prison, and not for college. We call our children ‘the future,’ and indeed they are. If we don't stop saddling up our children with convictions, our future will be bleak. We must disrupt this pipeline. And we must do it now.”

      How do we as moms do our part to disrupt the school-to-prison pipeline? A number of things can be done to usher your child away from this ravenous monster of a pipeline. These things must be done consistently and thoroughly to work:

  1. Know your child’s teachers and make sure they know you. This means show for your child. When educators see your face on a regular basis, it makes it clear to them that you are there to support your child through their educational experience.

  2. Teach your son his rights and responsibilities as a student and as a member of his community.

  3. Know your rights and responsibilities as the parent of a student and as a member of your community.

  4. Document every single adverse incident your child has at school. This means keep a record of the date, time, place, and people involved in the incident. Note the cause of the incident, what was done to troubleshoot the incident, what solutions worked, what solutions did not work, and document follow up dates to measure progress of solutions implemented. Give special attention to incidents involving racial disparities.

  5. Don’t be afraid to go over the heads of teachers and administrators to your child’s school superintendent if you are not getting what you need from the staff at his school site.

  6. Put your child in a mentoring program that has a proven track record or that has mentors with outstanding credentials.

  7. If tutoring or educational resources are offered to your child, take advantage of them.

  8. Monitor your child’s homework and class work on a daily basis. Most schools have web pages set up for each student. You can monitor academic grades, citizenship scores, and individual assignments on these web pages and make duplicate copies of all assignments.

  9. Go into your child's cumulative file after any incident, infraction, or school related police encounter and read through all of the notes. If you find info that you disagree with something, add a note explaining your child’s position.

  10. Appeal or dispute infractions against your child that you feel are wrong.

     The Prison Industrial Complex feeds off of the school-to-prison pipeline. Its appetite is not going to be curbed anytime soon, but as moms, we can starve this monster by staying aware of what we are up against and using every resource at our disposal as a means to battle it. Moms of Black boys must stick together, share resources, and be a means of support for each other while dealing with issues involving our sons and their education. Join MOBB United for Social Change (MUSC) today.

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