NAWJ Webinar "Disrupting the School to Prison Pipeline, Part 1" Summary

Written by National Association of Women Judges|August 31, 2021|News

On July 22, 2021, NAWJ’s Ensuring Racial Equity and Juvenile Justice and Child Welfare Committees hosted the “Disrupting the School to Prison Pipeline” webinar. The webinar is the first in a two-part series which aims to discuss the correlation between the treatment of youth of color in schools and their subsequent disproportionate representation in the juvenile and family court systems.

Retired Judge Ernestine Steward Gray of Orleans Parish Juvenile Court moderated a panel of experts consisting of: Past President of the National Council for Juvenile and Family Courts and current Texas Third Circuit Court of Appeals Chief Justice Darlene Byrne; San Diego State University Dean’s Distinguished Professor of Education and Vice President of Student Affairs and Campus Diversity, Dr. Luke Wood; and Mr. Jarrell Daniels, who was a formerly incarcerated youth, now a 2021 Truman Scholar at Columbia University and a leader in the field of youth justice.

The following learning objectives were laid out by the Committees hosting the event:

  1. The disparate suspension and expulsion rates for youth of color;
  2. The correlation between suspension and expulsion rates for youth of color, starting as early as kindergarten, and their subsequent entry into the justice system;
  3. The overview of solutions to the school to prison pipeline which will be addressed in the second part of the series.

Dr. Wood began the panel by presenting data showing that students of color are disproportionately singled out and punished by teachers, often for age-appropriate behavior, simply because of their race. These students are often also treated with disregard, and are automatically assumed to be less academically inclined than their white counterparts, and are therefore treated as second-class citizens in the classroom. These patterns tend to continue throughout their time in school, and lead to higher rates of expulsion and suspension for youth of color. Expulsions and suspensions keep youth out of their schools, pushing them further and further behind, but also often introducing them to the juvenile justice system.

Mr. Daniels also pointed out the correlation between the education and child welfare systems, stating that “the school-to-prison pipeline is a multitude of system failures.” Due to their, typically temporary, position as well as other factors, foster parents may not feel empowered or have the chance to advocate for children within the child welfare system in their schools. Additionally, being placed in the foster care system often destabilizes a child’s education in terms of movement from one school to another and one home to another, not to mention the potential for trauma.

Often, one of the main sources for referrals to the juvenile justice systems are schools and youth in the child welfare system are more likely to end up in juvenile detention than are youth outside of the system. In reaching out to the school district it was in, Chief Justice Byrne and the court over which she presided at the time, drastically decreased the number of children referred to the juvenile courts by schools. The court provided resources, tools, and training to School Resource Officers in order to minimize the number of youths that were needlessly referred to the juvenile justice system for the aforementioned age-appropriate behavior that they exhibited.

The problem of the school-to-prison pipeline involves a failure of several systems: the education system, the juvenile justice system, and sometimes, the child welfare system. However, it may be possible to chip away at the pipeline by investing in and showing compassion for youth and their families, offering mentorship and leadership opportunities, and perhaps most importantly, training educators to match their intent to their impact by improving their own biases. In order to truly plug up the pipe, the focus must be put on the institutional and systemic failures rather than the perceived failures of the youth themselves.

The second part of this series will include further discussion of potential solutions to the school-to-prison pipeline.

Written by Galicia Rothe, NAWJ Intern

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