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