By MOKGWETSI SIZWE CHAPMAN, age 14
Children with learning disabilities, African Americans and Latinos are more likely to be subjected to harsh disciplinary actions and to “zero-tolerance” policies, starting in elementary school, thus setting the stage for higher rates of incarceration (detention in prison) among them when they get older. Rather than getting the support they need to succeed, children with disabilities, African Americans and Latinos are more likely to be conditioned to go into correctional facilities–a process and civil rights issue called the school-to-prison pipeline.
“Multiple studies confirm that students of color receive harsher consequences than their white peers for committing the same offenses,” the Center for American Progress reports.
Today, more than 2 million people are in prison, most of whom are people of color, compared with only 325,000 people in 1970, according to Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Color Blindness.
Disciplinary actions for bad behavior include counseling, mentorship and detention. But under the “zero-tolerance” policies, students are more likely to be suspended or expelled (kicked out of school) and police officers may get involved. According to the newspaper Liberation, “There are more police departments with armed officers in the schools, which in turn use surveillance cameras, metal detectors, drug-sniffing dogs, and random searches of students.” When kids are punished severely and kicked out of school often, they are less likely to complete their studies. They start to be seen as troublemakers. Once they go to prison, the road stops there because many doors of opportunity close once someone enters the criminal justice system.
Students who act up may come from communities where there is poverty, violence and drugs. Some students may have family members who have been to or are still in prison. Students may be bored and do not understand what they are doing. Dr. Rodney Washington, a former juvenile corrections officer and currently chair of the Elementary and Early Childhood Education Department at Jackson State University in Mississippi said, “[Students] don’t [all] learn the same way and they need [a] curriculum that supports their learning styles.” He emphasized the importance of making school fun and engaging for kids, and making sure they have enough guidance and mentorship in school.
DID YOU KNOW?
More than half of youth in juvenile detention have not completed eighth grade and two-thirds of those leaving formal custody do not return to school. Source: Cory Roy-Stevens, author of Overcoming Barriers to School Reentry.
Nearly 100,000 children and teens are in police custody (or supervision) nationwide. People of color are four times more likely to be held in custody than white youths. Source: Booth Gunter and Jamie Kizzire, authors of Breaking the School-to-Prison-Pipeline.
Fifty percent of all prisoners are African American, 30 percent are white and 20 percent are Latino. Most are in prison for nonviolent crimes. Source: Nancy A. Heitzeg, professor at St. Catherine University and author of Kids Behind Bars: Where’s the justice in America’s Juvenile Justice System?