[ExI] School to Prison Pipeline (What's Going On?)

Olga Bourlin fauxever at sprynet.com
Sat Jun 9 20:46:14 UTC 2007

Interesting and disturbing observations by Bob Herbert (NY Times):

School to Prison Pipeline

The latest news-as-entertainment spectacular is the Paris Hilton criminal 
justice fiasco. She's in! She's out! She's - whatever.

Far more disturbing (and much less entertaining) is the way school officials 
and the criminal justice system are criminalizing children and teenagers all 
over the country, arresting them and throwing them in jail for behavior that 
in years past would never have led to the intervention of law enforcement.

This is an aspect of the justice system that is seldom seen. But the 
consequences of ushering young people into the bowels of police precincts 
and jail cells without a good reason for doing so are profound.

Two months ago I wrote about a 6-year-old girl in Florida who was handcuffed 
by the police and taken off to the county jail after she threw a tantrum in 
her kindergarten class.

Police in Brooklyn recently arrested more than 30 young people, ages 13 to 
22, as they walked toward a subway station, on their way to a wake for a 
teenage friend who had been murdered. No evidence has been presented that 
the grieving young people had misbehaved. No drugs or weapons were found.

But they were accused by the police of gathering unlawfully and of 
disorderly conduct.

In March, police in Baltimore handcuffed a 7-year-old boy and took him into 
custody for riding a dirt bike on the sidewalk. The boy tearfully told The 
Baltimore Examiner, "They scared me." Mayor Sheila Dixon later apologized 
for the arrest.

Children, including some who are emotionally disturbed, are often arrested 
for acting out. Some are arrested for carrying sharp instruments that they 
had planned to use in art classes, and for mouthing off.

This is a problem that has gotten out of control. Behavior that was once 
considered a normal part of growing up is now resulting in arrest and 

Kids who find themselves caught in this unnecessary tour of the criminal 
justice system very quickly develop malignant attitudes toward law 
enforcement. Many drop out - or are forced out - of school. In the worst 
cases, the experience serves as an introductory course in behavior that is, 
in fact, criminal.

There is a big difference between a child or teenager who brings a gun to 
school or commits some other serious offense and someone who swears at 
another student or gets into a wrestling match or a fistfight in the 
playground. Increasingly, especially as zero-tolerance policies proliferate, 
children are being treated like criminals for the most minor offenses.

There should be no obligation to call the police if a couple of kids get 
into a fight and teachers are able to bring it under control. But now, in 
many cases, youngsters caught fighting are arrested and charged with 

A 2006 report on disciplinary practices in Florida schools showed that a 
middle school student in Palm Beach County who was caught throwing rocks at 
a soda can was arrested and charged with a felony - hurling a "deadly 

We need to get a grip.

The Racial Justice Program at the American Civil Liberties Union has been 
studying this issue. "What we see routinely," said Dennis Parker, the 
program's director, "is that behavior that in my time would have resulted in 
a trip to the principal's office is now resulting in a trip to the police 

He added that the evidence seems to show that white kids are significantly 
less likely to be arrested for minor infractions than black or Latino kids.

The 6-year-old arrested in Florida was black. The 7-year-old arrested in 
Baltimore was black.

Shaquanda Cotton was black. She was the 14-year-old high school freshman in 
Paris, Tex., who was arrested for shoving a hall monitor. She was convicted 
in March 2006 of "assault on a public servant" and sentenced to a prison 
term of - hold your breath - up to seven years!

Shaquanda's outraged family noted that the judge who sentenced her had, just 
three months earlier, sentenced a 14-year-old white girl who was convicted 
of arson for burning down her family's home. The white girl was given 

Shaquanda was recently released after a public outcry over her case and the 
eruption of a scandal involving allegations of widespread sexual abuse of 
incarcerated juveniles in Texas.

This issue deserves much more attention. Sending young people into the 
criminal justice system unnecessarily is a brutal form of abuse with 
consequences, for the child and for society as a whole, that can last a 

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