New America Media, Commentary, Posted: Nov 17, 2015
The nation recently got a firsthand view of what advocates have dubbed the “school to prison pipeline” when a video went viral of a South Carolina school police officer slamming a teenage girl to ground, then dragging and handcuffing her. Her crime had been chewing gum, texting on her cell phone, and refusing to leave her desk in her classroom. For that she was physically assaulted and arrested. And so the pipeline begins.
Studies show that the vast majority of youth in the juvenile justice system were suspended from school before winding up incarcerated or on probation. And the majority of adult inmates in state prisons around the country were once in the juvenile system. Hence the pipeline – from school suspension to juvenile hall to the penitentiary.
But, just like school suspensions can lead to youth detention, reducing suspensions can have the opposite effect.
In Los Angeles, with the second largest school district in the country, the number of school suspension days reduced by an astonishing 89 percent over the last five years, from seventy-four thousand per year down to 8,000. And sure enough, the rate of youth in the juvenile justice system has also plummeted in Los Angeles County. Over the past five years, the number of youth incarcerated in the county’s juvenile detention centers and camps have been cut in half, according to LA Probation Department reports.
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