By Derek Black
February 17, 2016
The ABA (American Bar Association) formed a School-to-Prison Pipeline Task Force two years ago, and has hosted a series of town hall meetings across the country over the past year. Now the Task Force has released a report, co-authored by Sarah Redfield and Jason Nance.
The report is copious in its description of the problem and its causes, as well as recommendations for reform.
This Executive Summary describes its findings:
"The school-to-prison pipeline—the metaphor encompassing the various issues in our education system that result in students leaving school and becoming involved in the criminal justice system—is one of our nation’s most formidable challenges.
It arises from low expectations and engagement, poor or lacking school relationships, low academic achievement, incorrect referral or categorization in special education, and overly harsh discipline including suspension, expulsion, referral to law enforcement, arrest, and treatment in the juvenile justice system. . . .
While many have known about the problems associated with the school-to-prison pipeline for years, recent data from the U.S. Department of Education’s Civil Rights Data Collection now elucidate their magnitude, and that magnitude is unacceptably large and out of proportion to the population of our young people.
This disproportionality manifests itself all along the educational pipeline from preschool to juvenile justice and even to adult prison for students of color, for students with disabilities, for LGBTQ students, and for other groups in particular settings. These students are poorly served at every juncture.
Students of color are disproportionately:
- lower achievers and unable to read at basic or above;
- damaged by lower expectations and lack of engagement;
- retained in grade or excluded because of high stakes testing;
- subject to more frequent and harsher punishment;
- placed in alternative disciplinary schools or settings;
- referred to law enforcement or subject to school-related arrest;
- pushed or dropping out of school;
- failing to graduate from high school;
- feel threatened at school and suffer consequences as victims. For students with disabilities, disproportionality manifests itself in similar ways, and race and ethnicity, gender, and disability compound.
Students with disabilities (or those who are labeled as disabled by the school) are disproportionately:
- students of color, especially in discretionary categories under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA);
- less likely to be academically proficient;
- disciplined, and more harshly so;
- retained in grade, but still dropping out or failing to graduate;
- more likely to be placed in alternative disciplinary schools or settings or otherwise spend more time out of the regular classroom;
- to be secluded or restrained;
- referred to law enforcement or subject to school-related arrest and incarceration.
. . . . These negative disproportionalities might be understood if removals from school were in fact making schools safer or if confinement in juvenile detention or other facilities led to improved outcomes. This does not appear to be the case in practice or in theory.
Nor can disproportionate treatment of certain students and their overrepresentation in the negatives of our education and juvenile justice systems be explained away because certain groups are more likely to be engaged in bad or delinquent behavior.
The causes of the school-to-prison pipeline are many, complex, and interrelated. These include criminalization of school discipline and the increased presence of law enforcement officers in schools. Throughout these causes runs evidence of implicitly biased discretionary decisions, which, unintentionally, bring about these results."
The report's recommendations focus on: a) convenings and training by the ABA and Partners and b) new legislation and policy.
The specific recommendations include:
- offering training on implementation;
- Support legal representation for students at point of exclusion from school, including development of model best practice training modules for lawyers and law students for representation for students facing suspension or expulsion;
- Support ongoing convenings where educators, School Resource Officers, law enforcement, and juvenile justice decision makers join together to develop strategies to reverse the School-to-Prison Pipeline;
- Develop training modules for training of SROs and police dealing with youth on appropriate strategies for LGBTQ students and students with disabilities;
- Develop training modules on Implicit Bias and De-Biasing for decision makers along the StPP including teachers and administrators, school resource officers, police, juvenile judges and others dealing with juveniles, to reduce disproportionalities;
- Encourage its members to continue engagement in youth mentoring initiatives;
- Remove zero-tolerance policies from schools;
- Support legislation eliminating criminalizing student misbehavior that does not endanger others;
- Support legislation eliminating the use of suspensions, expulsions, and referrals to law enforcement for lower-level offenses;
- Support demonstrated alternative strategies to address student misbehavior, including Restorative Justice;
- Provide model policy and support school policy and agreements that clarify the distinction between educator discipline and law enforcement discipline;
- Provide appropriate training for School Resource Officers;
- Identify funding and provide safe harbor for participants in evaluative research on implicit bias and de-biasing training;
- Provide for continued and more detailed data reporting relating to school discipline and juvenile detention and disproportionality.