The School to Prison Pipeline and Zero Tolerance have been popular buzz words in the legal and educational communities over the last few years. Now the American Bar Association is calling for the pipeline to be dismantled, not just discussed.
It happened during the Midyear Meeting of the American Bar Association (ABA) in Houston, Texas in early February, and before that in similar town hall meetings in Boston and Chicago. Lawyers with intimate knowledge of the juvenile and criminal defense systems called for a change in how America treats its students.
In particular, the talk called for the ABA to “dismantle” the School to Prison Pipeline, the tendency for educators and police to work together to channel disruptive students from the classroom to juvenile detention centers. As a result of this trend, the US detains five times as many juvenile offenders as the next highest nation. Of those juveniles 75% are nonviolent.
These trends need to change. That’s why speaker Pamela Meanes, president of the National Bar Association, shared her own, powerful story. According to the American Bar Association’s report of the town hall meeting:
In her keynote speech, Meanes told how as a third-grader and one of five children of a single-parent mother, she was a bully at school. That is until she got a visit from a truant officer who threatened to take her to jail if she continued to bully kids. He then took her to lunch and impressed upon her how valuable education was and how she should use her influence to be a leader rather than a tyrant.
“I tell you that story because if I was a third-grader today, I wouldn’t just get a visit from the truant officer under the school-to-prison pipeline,” Meanes said. “I wouldn’t have someone take me around, buy me lunch and encourage me. I would be thrown into a system that characterizes me as an individual who is a threat to the educational system and as a disruption in the classroom. That’s what the school-to-prison pipeline does. It takes children from single-parent households who look a lot like me, whose resources may have been limited and it puts them in a one-size-fits-all category.
“Just think if we had the zero-tolerance policy back in the 1980s. If we had the stringent test standards back in the ‘80s. This young woman would not have gone on to graduate from college, become a lawyer and be standing here today as the president of the National Bar Association. The system would have given up on me and lost out on a valuable member of society.”
Meanes is right. Our current school discipline system turns disruptive children into criminals, cutting them off from becoming productive members of society. Unless we dismantle the School to Prison Pipeline, our society will miss out on the great contributions those disruptive members could provide, if someone were only to come along side them instead of send them away to juvenile detention.
Lisa J. Schmidt is a juvenile defense attorney at Schmidt Law Services, PLLC, in Ferndale, Michigan. She represents students at suspension and expulsion hearings as well as in juvenile court. If you know a student who is struggling with disciplinary issues in school, contact Schmidt Law Services today for a free consultation.