Tag Archives: juvenile justice

The Error of Our Ways: Education and Mass Incarceration

Originally published on Bellwether and The 74’s live blog of the DNC.

In 1996, Hillary Clinton, in support of her husband’s sweeping crime bill, gave an interview in which she invoked the “superpredator,” a criminal so corrupted that they were irredeemable. That narrative stoked the fear that has driven two decades of prison and jail expansion, militarized local police, and zero tolerance school discipline policies. But times have changed.

prison-370112_960_720In just the last few years, we’ve watched the tide turn in our national discourse on incarceration, and it’s clear that the speakers at last week’s convention have joined the call by Education Secretary John King and others to shift resources away from the criminal justice system and into our schools. It’s not just our federal leaders in a crisis of conscience, states, school districts, and charter schools are rethinking their approaches to student behavior. They’re spurred by a realization that they have been complicit in a broken system.

Dr. Maya Angelou once reflected, “I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better.” During the primary campaign, there were loud voices insisting that Hillary’s 1996 comments were fair game for criticism. And they were. But if we as a society take the principles of growth and redemption seriously, then we need to take a close look at what’s different about this campaign and how Clinton has changed in the last 20 years. If you believe in second chances, then that stuff matters.  

Hillary has spoken explicitly about racial justice, mass incarceration, and the need to invest in supportive services in communities. Kate Burdick, a long-time education advocate, Eric Holder, and the students of Eagle Academy, joined the lineup of speakers at the DNC last week to talk about Hillary’s focus on education and justice reform. And in his speech last Monday, Bernie Sanders credited Hillary Clinton with understanding that we need to make sure that young people “are in good schools and in good jobs, not rotting in jail cells.”

While Hillary shouldn’t be accountable for her husband’s policies, she is responsible for her own words — words that she now publicly regrets. If she follows that up with real action on education like her platform suggests, it could be a demonstration of the self-aware leader who does better once they know better and an example for us all.

How Trump’s Rhetoric Impacts Students

Read more live coverage of #EDlection2016 via Bellwether and The 74’s Convention Live Blog.

The last few weeks have been traumatic. More African-American men were killed by police. And snipers executed 8 officers in Dallas, Texas and Baton Rouge, Louisiana. It’s times like these when we need our President to reassure us and help deescalate the tension.

But, Donald Trump wholly lacks this quality. Over the past year, he has shown no desire or ability to reconcile differences, to heal wounds, or to soothe suffering. Instead, Trump uses his candidacy to encourage intolerance and incite violence.

Donald TrumpShould Trump win the Presidency, his rhetoric encouraging violence would have dire consequences in American schools. Already, teachers report a “Trump Effect,” corresponding with increased fear, bullying, and racial tensions. Elementary school children are organizing against him because his rhetoric and policies alienate them and their families.

Under a Trump Administration the trouble wouldn’t stop there.

In fact, Trump’s positions on school safety would undercut efforts and progress we’ve made toward closing the school-to-prison pipeline. For example, instead of decreasing police presence in schools, he wants to go several steps in the other direction and arm teachers. From here, it doesn’t take much imagination to envision Trump doubling down on failed zero-tolerance policies, pushing for greater police presence in schools, as well as adding metal detectors and other security measures in schools.

As history has shown time and time again, this kind of reaction to tragedy and violence in schools is the wrong response. More police means more arrests, not less violence. Moreover, these policies and practices disproportionately target students of color. The most recent Civil Rights Data Collection found black students are 2.3 times as likely to be referred to law enforcement as white students. They also found large race-based disparities in school suspensions, even in preschool.  

For students, the results are devastating.

A single suspension can double a student’s likelihood of dropping out.  A recent study found that disproportionate experiences with school discipline contribute significantly to the race-based achievement gap. Another found that the achievement of students who are never suspended is negatively affected in a school with a high-rate of suspension. In fact, suspensions don’t even work as a deterrent. The likelihood of a student being suspended actually increases after their first suspension.  

All of these problems would likely be compounded under Trump. The progress made in states like Maryland and Connecticut toward reducing exclusionary discipline, limiting arrests, and increasing school safety would be threatened — and perhaps lost altogether.

Trump seems to believe that the thing to do when faced with violence and unrest is to be “strong,” unapologetic, and uncompromising. But in truth, the brave thing is not to clench your fist and be combative. The courageous thing is to deescalate the situation and find workable solutions.

Unfortunately, Trump favors bringing a gun to a knife fight when in reality the answer is to stop fighting.

Too Many States Are Celebrating a “Better than Nothing” Education for Incarcerated Students

Alabama made news this week with their announcement about a possible and massive new jail-based education program for incarcerated 17-21 year olds. Administered by Athens City Schools, this program would offer students access to high school content provided by the for-profit online content service Grade Results.

laptop-1176606_1920But Grade Results is not an accredited education provider. They cannot legally award high school credits or diplomas. They also cannot offer students transferable college credits. But by coordinating the virtual program through the district and classifying students as enrolled in a district school, those students can earn high school credits and be awarded an official Athens City Schools diploma from an accredited school upon completion — as if they had actually attended the physical school.  Even though they didn’t.

Sound bogus to you? It is. Continue reading

Going to College with a Criminal Record: Who’s Afraid of Whom?

Approximately one third of homicides go unsolved in America. Almost sixty percent of reported rapes never result in prosecution (much less a conviction). And only slightly more than one in ten auto thefts are ever resolved. (All data from the FBI.) So maybe you should worry about what happens when your classmate is a former inmate, but probably not as much as you think. Or at least, only as much as you’re worrying about what happens when your classuniversity-105709_640mate has committed a crime for which s/he was never arrested or convicted — because for every person who is prosecuted, many others are never caught. In other words: not much.

Hand-wringing aside, our policies are starting to catch up with the facts. Today, the U.S. Department of Education announced a proposal with a set of recommendations to minimize inquiries about conviction histories in the college application process in order to improve college access for those who have criminal records.

Many of our current policies are built on a false duality that divides the world neatly into good people and bad people: college students are good people and former inmates are bad people. Young people suspended from school through the operation of “zero tolerance” discipline practices are just kids caught up in the school-to-prison pipeline, but young people serving sentences in corrections facilities are criminals who need to learn a lesson. And this tidy set of categories helps us manage a reality that otherwise makes us very uncomfortable. Continue reading

Building a Prison-to-Promise Pipeline

This week is the inaugural  National Reentry Week, designated by the U.S. Department of Justice to draw attention to the challenges faced by people returning to their communities after incarceration. Several agencies including the Department of Health and Human Services, the Federal Bureau of Prisons, and local law enforcement agencies are hosting events and announcing programs.

library-922998_1280A 2013 federal study of individuals in state prisons (the largest group of incarcerated people) found that 94 percent of those adults who were nearing reentry identified education as a key need. For young people, the need is even deeper.

Here at Bellwether, I provide strategic advising support and policy guidance to school leaders across the country.  The number one concern that I hear from leaders of successful schools and programs is “what happens when they leave us?” And I’ve talked to kids in juvenile justice schools all across the country who tell me that they feel like their teachers and programs have engaged them in ways that they never thought possible. It leaves them wondering, “why can’t I have this on the outs?”  (When you’re inside the gates, “the outs” is shorthand for the life you left outside.) Continue reading