2 Events of 2015 that Illustrate the Severity of the School-to-Prison Pipeline

Sadly, over half of young black men who attend urban high schools do not earn a diploma. Of the dropouts, nearly 60 percent will go to prison at some point. Perhaps there is no real connection between these statistics or the eerily similar ones associated with young Latino men. Are these young people really just bad apples, destined to fail academically and then live a life of crime? If some of the theories of genetic predisposition are true, perhaps these young men never stood a chance at success and have simply accepted their lots in life.

But what if all those answers are just cop outs? What if scoffing at a connection between a strong education and a life lived on the straight and narrow is an easy way to bypass the real issues in K-12 learning? In this end-of-the-year piece, we will examine events from 2015 that illustrate how powerful the school-to-prison pipeline really is.

Indiana judge told school districts to stop locking up kids. An Indianapolis-area judge sent a letter to district superintendents that insisted school administrators stop having so many students arrested. The letter says that 1,500 Indy kids are sent to juvenile detention centers annually, but 80 percent of them are never charged. The juvenile centers simply send the kids back, leaving them with the stigma of being arrested.

“Locking up kids is not the right way to solve this problem,” Moores said in her letter, which also explained how she had no intention of processing kids who were not appropriate for a detention center. “We have to draw the line because we don’t want to make major criminals out of rowdy kids.”

The trend to arrest first, and ask questions later, throughout schools districts in the nation is troubling. Judge Moores hit the nail on the head when she pointed out that sometimes having a child arrested makes even more trouble, and I believe it can even be the catalyst that pushes some kids into the criminal lifestyle. Yes, we want to keep all our students safe, and violent actions or threats on school campuses must be taken seriously. But there needs to be more resolution inside schools, instead of always turning to the criminal justice system—especially for non-violent, minor issues.

We need more support within schools to handle the behavior issues that arise, whether that is more training for teachers or better-equipped school counselors and administrators. Keeping “bad” kids in school benefits us all, not just the students otherwise facing arrest.

Arrest of Ahmed Mohomed. One kid, one clock, and one set of handcuffs set the nation ablaze in September. Ahmed Mohamed was detained by officers from the Irving Police Department for bringing a homemade clock to school that his teacher mistook for a bomb.

In an effort to defuse the clock—and the situation—the police were called, and Ahmed was arrested for bringing a “hoax bomb” to school. Officials later learned that Ahmed’s faux bomb was just a homemade clock, and he had no intention of harming anyone. It was all, as stated by the police, just a misunderstanding. If only misunderstandings were that simple.

The unfairness of his arrest has more to do with Ahmed’s culture and skin color than safety. Ahmed Mohamed is a Muslim born in America with non-native parents. The stereotypes associated with Ahmed’s existence led to his arrest, not a clock “misidentified” as a bomb.

According to study by the University of Pennsylvania, students of color, specifically black students, are suspended at a much higher rate than white students.. The study also noted that in 84 districts within the 13 states studied, “blacks were 100 percent of students suspended from school.” While Ahmed isn’t black, he is considered to be a student of color, and this perpetuates an unfortunate theory that students of color are pushed towards prison instead of higher education.

Ahmed is a curious kid who enjoyed putting things together and fixing broken electronics. He was arrested for bringing a homemade clock to school, which, on so many levels, means that a part of his creativity was doused due to racism, stereotypes, and ignorance. Since the melee, Ahmed has been invited to the White House, MIT, and the Facebook headquarters for his creativity. Each organization or group has shown support for Ahmed due to his unfair arrest.

We need to push more kids like Ahmed to advance boundaries, not punish their ability to blow by them. It is unfortunate that Ahmed’s lesson on how rules are applied to certain students, cultures, and races was learned through his ability to be creative.

What do you think we can do to end the school to prison pipeline?

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