Category: Adventures in Zero Tolerance Land

Mar 07 2015

Video: Restoring Justice

I had the great privilege to speak on a panel about the school to prison pipeline and restorative justice on Thursday. The panel was organized by the School Project to celebrate the premiere of a new short documentary produced by young filmmakers from Free Spirit Media.

You can watch the documentary below. It’s very good. Also, a couple of months ago, a group of restorative justice practitioners (including me) completed a short document laying out the principles of RJ. You download that HERE.

Mar 23 2014

Action Needed: Please OPPOSE HB 4775 & its Amendment

If you are reading this and live in IL, please take the next logical step and actually FILE A WITNESS SLIP to OPPOSE HB 4775 (observing from the sidelines is not really helpful at this point, thanks).

HB 4775 – Being called a NO-BRAINER BILL:

This bill permits students to be “pushed out” from the traditional school setting for a mere arrest. A basic tenet of the U.S. justice system is to be considered innocent until proven guilty. In essence, it disregards due process protections any accused individual is guaranteed.

This violation may result in an expulsion lasting to 2 calendar years at the discretion of individual school administration.

Discretionary application of school discipline code has been found —and continues to be observed — to have disparate impact on youth of color.

Amends the School Code. Allows a school board to suspend or authorize the superintendent of the district or the principal, assistant principal, or dean of students of a school to suspend a student for a period not to exceed 10 school days or to expel a student for a definite period of time not to exceed 2 calendar years, as determined on a case-by-case basis, if the student has been charged with a violent felony and the charges are pending or if the student has been convicted of a violent felony. Defines “violent felony”. Effective immediately.

Please file a witness slips in OPPOSITION to HB 4775 HERE.

1. Under Section I, fill in your identification information.
2. Under Section II, fill out your organization if you are representing one or write “self” if you are representing yourself. You can also just fill out N/A.
3. In Section III, select the “Opponent” button (for BOTH the original bill and the amendment).
4. In Section IV, select “Record of Appearance Only.”
5. Agree to the ILGA Terms of Agreement
6. Select the “Create Slip” button.

Slips can be submitted until tomorrow, March 26 at 8:00 a.m.

May 01 2013

Black Girls & The School-to-Prison Pipeline: Kiera Wilmot’s Story & How To Help…

photo of Kiera Wilmot

photo of Kiera Wilmot

I first learned of Kiera Wilmot’s story last night via a blog post by Kyle Munzenrieder. Here is how he recounted the incident in question:

Kiera Wilmot got good grades and had a perfect behavior record. She wasn’t the kind of kid you’d expect to find hauled away in handcuffs and expelled from school, but that’s exactly what happened after an attempt at a science project went horribly wrong.

On 7 a.m. on Monday, the 16 year-old mixed some common household chemicals in a small 8 oz water bottle on the grounds of Bartow High School in Bartow, Florida. The reaction caused a small explosion that caused the top to pop up and produced some smoke. No one was hurt and no damage was caused.

Prosecutors have charged her with several felonies and are considering potentially trying her as an adult. Read more from the post here.

I was outraged last night but then had to run to the police station overnight to address an issue that came up with a young person. I spent part of this morning searching for more information about the case. WTSP in Florida filed this report about the incident. The principal said that this was not a malicious act:

“She made a bad choice. Honestly, I don’t think she meant to ever hurt anyone. She wanted to see what would happen [when the chemicals mixed] and was shocked by what it did. Her mother is shocked too.”

For those who want to speak up and take action to rectify this outrage. You can do a few concrete things:

1. Someone has launched a petition demanding that charges be dropped against Kiera and that she be re-instated at her school. You can sign here.

2. You can contact FL State Attorney Jerry Hill and tell him not to prosecute 16 year old Kiera Wilmot as an adult. Call him at 863-534-4800 or email his office here.

I personally called the office this afternoon and spoke to a woman who said that the case is still under investigation and that the office would have no comments at this time. I let them know that the entire country is watching to see what they will do. I expressed my outrage that they would consider charging her with felonies and as an adult.

3. You can also call the school district’s Superintendent: Dr. John Stewart –(863) 534-0521 to ask that he intervene on Kiera’s behalf and ask law enforcement to drop the charges. Ask him to re-instate Kiera in school.

4. To learn more about the increasing criminalization of black girls at school, read Monique Morris report.

You should also read Sesali Bowen’s blog post published at Feministing today that addresses this incident & raises important points about the criminalization of youth in schools.

5. For those who are interested in reading in greater depth about the criminalization of black & brown youth in the U.S., I put together a short bibliography of articles to read a couple of years ago here.

There are some updates to the story that can be found here.

Jan 27 2013

Image of the Day: Police in Schools

I really liked this comic…

by Matt Bors

by Matt Bors

Jan 23 2013

Poem of the Day: D.U.M.M.I.E. (Daring Use of My Mental Intelligence Enlightens)

D.U.M.M.I.E. (Daring Use of My Mental Intelligence Enlightens)
by Anthony

I find it funny how one person can be judged by another
without them ever speaking
I’m pretty sure most people see me, the clothes, the hair, and
the first thought in their mind is thug, hoodlum
How do I know this?
I know this because every time I open my mouth and say
something intelligent, I’m looked at like I just grew a
new head
Does it matter if I represent blue or red or how my life
was led?
So what if my waist and the size of my pants ain’t the same?
What’s that gotta do wit the use of my brain?
I know a lot of young people who feel my pain
So what if I was bad and acted up in school?
Did it ever occur to you that at the time I had nothing else
to do?
Growin’ up, boredom was my worst enemy
So I took mischief and made it a friend to me
Take a look at my transcripts
Through all my suspensions, my grades never suffered
And everything I learned sits in the back of my mind
and hovers
Waitin’ to be put to a use
I laugh when people call the use of my intellect an abuse
The legal system bugs
Like they’re outraged at the misuse
Yet they never take the time to come into our world
And see that we are more than thugs with some serious issues
How can you watch everyone you grew up with get put away
for life?
Or members of your family go through heartache and strife?
Knowin’ a majority of your sisters will never be a wife
Growin’ up surrounded by danger and pain
Is it any wonder that some of us are considered criminally insane?
Half the people I know were never offered any assistance
If they was, pride spoke before common sense and said forget this
Of all the social workers I spoke to at a young age
I can count on a hand the ones that came close to
understanding my rage
I was young, smart and the work was no trouble
Every time there was extra credit I quickly scored double
The majority of my school life I sat and did nothin’
I’m thinkin’, if this is education they must be frontin’
When I found ways to occupy myself, I ended up in the principal’s office
With them telling me I need help
I don’t know about you, but the principal wasn’t my pal
And the only help he offered me was suspension with a smile
I laugh now cuz’ I find it funny
All that time they thought I was a dummy.

Source: Hidden TREWTH, no.1 (May 2001)

Dec 12 2012

The School-to-Prison Pipeline in Focus: Today’s Congressional Hearing…

Last month, I presented at the American Society of Criminology’s annual conference which took place in Chicago this year. The panel was about the school-to-prison pipeline which has become a sexy topic in the past couple of years.

Today, Congress is hosting the first ever hearing about the school to prison pipeline.

I submitted testimony for this hearing and below is an excerpt:

The School-to-Prison Pipeline in Chicago

In the last 20 years, advocates, students, educators, and researchers have pointed out the existence of a school-to-prison pipeline (STPP).[1]  The STPP describes how harsh school discipline policies and law enforcement policies intersect to feed young people into the prison system.  There has been an explosion of academic research, conferences, and media reports about this phenomenon.

The history of the current intolerance and punitive attitude existing both on the streets and in the schools can be traced back to Columbine. In the schools, the post-Columbine era saw the introduction of federal and state ordinances leading to zero tolerance policies. In the streets, the war on drugs led to more punitive criminal legal responses as a whole (three strikes, mandatory sentencing, zero tolerance). 

Read more »

Sep 30 2011

Sagging Pants, Hypercriminalization and School Pushout…

I came across this “ad” on a friend’s Facebook wall today.

Some people’s first reaction to this “ad” might be to chuckle at its utter ridiculousness. Surely the purveyors of this ad are not advocating that young people who wear sagging pants go to jail for this?!!!?? Unfortunately though, the reality is that some legislators are in fact advocating fines and community service for young people who don’t “pull up their pants.” Here’s an example from New Orleans:

Here’s an ad from a state senator in New York that attempts to couch the “war on sagging” within a historical context of racism.

The key sentence in the video for me is: “If we raise our pants, we raise our image.” The concept of being a “credit to one’s race” is deeply embedded in African American history. The state senator seems to be embracing the legacy of Booker T. Washington through his video. The sad thing is that for many African American youth pulling up their pants will NOT shift the deeply embedded image that the culture has of them as being “criminal” or “disposable.” It’s not about the clothes. Instead it is about what Amos Wilson has written:

In the eyes of White America an exaggeratedly large segment of Black America is criminally suspect. This is especially true relative to the Black male. In the fevered mind of White America, he is cosmically guilty. His guilt is existential. For him to be alive is to suspected, to be stereotypically accused, convicted and condemned for criminal conspiracy and intent. On the streets, in the subways, elevators, in the “wrong” neighborhood (p.37).”

In the past, I have written about attempts to criminalize youth of color by outlawing sagging pants and have connected this to the way that prison clothing is used as a marker of criminality.

A few weeks ago I wrote briefly about Victor Rios’ new book “Punished: Policing the Lives of Black and Latino Boys.” In the book, Rios coins the term “youth control complex” which is defined as “a system in which schools, police, probation officers, families, community centers, the media, businesses, and other institutions systemically treat young people’s everyday behaviors as criminal activity.” The “war on sagging pants” is a perfect illustration of this “youth control complex” in action.

Rios writes about the impact of the “youth control complex” on the lives of young people of color:

Young people, who become pinballs within this youth control complex, experience what I refer to as hypercriminalization, the process by which an individual’s everyday behaviors and styles become ubiquitously treated as deviant, risky, threatening or criminal, across social contexts.

This hypercriminalization, in turn, has a profound impact on young people’s perceptions, worldviews, and life outcomes. The youth control complex creates an overarching system of regulating the lives of marginalized young people, what I refer to as punitive social control.

Hypercriminalization involves constant punishment. Punishment, in this study, is understood as the process by which individuals come to feel stigmatized, outcast, shamed, defeated, or hopeless as a result of negative interactions and sanctions imposed by individuals who represent institutions of social control.

These days, ground zero of the “youth control complex” can be found in our nation’s schools. Dr. Aaron Kupchik who studies school discipline issues has found that schools with large minority populations are more likely to have metal detectors. None of you will be surprised by this finding. However I want to make the point that the crackdown on sagging pants is integrally related to the types of zero tolerance policies enacted in most urban schools. In fact, some schools have begun to punish students who wear sagging pants on school property. It comes full circle.

Kupchick and his colleague Goeff Ward are particularly concerned about the use of metal detectors in schools.

Unlike the other four measures, Kupchik identifies metal detectors as invasive (“kids are patted down like they’re going through airport security”) and disruptive to learning environments.

Further, he adds, metal detectors are more heavily aligned with the criminal justice system, and unlike locked gates, which restrict outside elements from coming into the schools, detectors presume students guilty of bringing items inside.

Scholars, educators, and young people from across the country are sounding the alarm about the intersection between schooling and youth hypercriminalization. From October 1 to 8, the Dignity in Schools Campaign (DSC), a coalition of educators and organizers, is spearheading the National Week of Action on School Pushout. The Dignity in Schools Campaign’s National Week of Action brings together organizations and individuals from 13 states to call for an end to zero tolerance policies, for the implementation of positive approaches to discipline, like restorative justice practices and positive behavior supports instead of relying solely on suspensions and expulsions, and for the passage of federal legislation that promotes positive school climates.

I suggest that everyone read the Week of Action Platform (PDF) to learn about what’s at stake in the education of young people across the U.S. You can also find fact sheets about how these issues on playing out in your state on their website. Below is an example of one of their fact sheets:

Aug 19 2011

Coming this September: Criminalizing 12-Year Olds in Chicago For Enjoying Fresh Air at Night

The Mayor of Chicago and our city council took time away from actually creating jobs for the people to approve without debate a new citywide curfew ordinance for youth ages 12 and under.

From the Huffington Post:

Unsupervised minors aged 12 and younger will now need to be in their homes by 8:30 p.m. on weekdays and by 9 p.m. on the weekends in order to avoid a fine of up to $500 or community service. Three offenses within a one-year period will be subjected to a $1,500 fine in addition to community service

At a time in Chicago when parents/guardians who are lucky enough to have employment have to work two jobs just to survive, the politicians in this city are basically levying another tax on families. How many 11 year olds in Chicago are responsible for basically caring for their younger siblings? Thousands. Yet if these same young people are outside of their homes “unsupervised” then they are subject to arrest and fines now? This is perverse and disgusting.

Here’s a quote from our dumb mayor on the new ordinance:

“I advocated for curfew laws while serving President Clinton because I believe the safest place for a child is at home,” Emanuel said. “I commend the aldermen for getting this ordinance passed. This is another tool that will help fight crime and help children from becoming victims of crime.”

Infuriating and so uninformed. Actually, Mr. Mayor, the LEAST safe place for children in America is the home. You can actually just go to the Department of Justice website to review the data from their national survey of children's exposure to violence. Children are overwhelmingly victimized, assaulted, and harmed by ADULTS who they know and most often at HOME. Those are the facts. Any attempt to address so-called youth violence ought to begin by addressing ourselves to the adults who perpetrate violence AGAINST young people.

This new ordinance purportedly is intended to “protect children.” How completely ridiculous… In fact, the actual empirical evidence DOES NOT support the assumption that curfews have any effect on youth violence or crime.

Instead of passing symbolic ordinances, our city council should have been busy finding funds to support the 3,000 summer jobs that were lost from last year. We should be organizing to throw all of these elected officials out of office as soon as possible.

Note: NPR just did a a story about whether curfews are actually effective or whether they are just another form of racial profiling.

Jun 14 2011

Congratulations, Texas Continues to Lead the Nation in Terrible Ideas…

I have to admit that I did a double take when I read this::

Texas is close to enacting a law that would provide teachers with detailed information about the criminal histories of their students, opening juvenile files that have always been confidential and are unavailable in most states.

The legislation, spurred by the fatal stabbing of a high school teacher in Tyler in 2009, is adding to a national debate over whether teacher safety should outweigh the rights of young offenders, who traditionally have moved through the juvenile justice system with their privacy protected.

The new disclosure rules were passed by legislators with little public attention last month. A spokeswoman for Gov. Rick Perry said the governor is “thoughtfully” reviewing the measure before deciding whether to sign it.

The use of the word “thoughtfully” in connection with Rick Perry is surely a joke. The governor who oversaw the killing of an innocent man is not going to care about keeping juvenile criminal records confidential.

Here is the most distressing part of this entire gambit:

Texas teacher groups strongly support the measure.

“We feel like we can deal with things when we’re in the know,” said Grace Mueller, a middle school teacher in San Marcos and an officer with the Texas Classroom Teachers Association. “When you’re blindsided, that’s when you get fearful or put yourself or someone else in harm’s way.”

Let me say this, as someone who formerly taught high school students and currently teaches college classes, I have the highest and deepest respect for educators. I think that it is the most difficult and most unappreciated vocation out there. All one needs to do is to look at what Republican governors are doing to collective bargaining rights for educators and at how many states are slashing teacher positions to understand how undervalued educators are in this country. That said, this is patently wrong and teachers’ unions and groups should STRONGLY oppose this law as a deep violation of privacy and as an enemy to social justice. I agree completely with Lawrence Wojcik quoted in the article who says:

“A kid walks into a classroom where the teacher knows all the details of the offense, the teacher would have to be super-human to be open-minded,” said Lawrence Wojcik, a Chicago attorney who chairs the American Bar Association’s juvenile justice committee.

What the hell is going on here? Seriously, what is the teacher going to be able to do once he/she receives information about a young person’s juvenile criminal record? Will the teacher have access to additional resources to deal with any potential needs that the student may have? Absolutely not. Let’s also be blunt, most of our elementary and high school teachers are white women and most of the youth in Texas with criminal records will be youth of color. Will this disclosure increase the likelihood of forming strong relationships between students and their teachers? I submit once again that the answer to this is a resounding “No.”

The article offers this important insight that I completely agree with:

However, the scope of the measure alarms some juvenile justice advocates. They worry that students who have committed crimes will be automatically placed in alternative education programs or subjected to other prejudicial treatment. They also point out that the written arrest notifications could haunt students even if they are cleared.

This is a terrible idea. It really is.

Apr 20 2011

Youth Perspectives on Juvenile “Justice”

(c) The Keller Citizen

I just read an article today about a group of over 200 students from Timbercreek High School who staged a walkout to protest cuts in teaching staff. It turns out that the students are now facing in-school suspension for their actions. Here the background to the story:

About 300 students held a sit-in before school to show support to teachers who had received termination notices because of school budget cuts. Some 500 Timber Creek students attended an assembly where Tunnell discussed the staffing reductions and encouraged kids to get involved by raising awareness in the community about the school funding crisis.

At the end of the assembly, Tunnell asked students to go to class or risk being counted truant. More than 200 students opted to leave the school, and many of them later drove or walked almost four miles to the Education Center on Keller Parkway. Supterintendent James Veitenheimer spoke to students and a few parents who accompanied them for about half an hour.

Last week, about 120 teachers on probationary contracts received termination notices, including 17 at Timber Creek. Officials have said they expect to rehire more than 75 percent of those teachers if a tax increase is approved. KISD is facing a more than $30 million deficit.

The outcome of the student walkout follows:

More than 200 Timber Creek High School students who left campus April 11 to protest cuts in teaching staff are facing in-school suspension.

“The students were disciplined, not for protesting because the protest was peaceful, but strictly for the violation of leaving campus without permission,” said Principal Todd Tunnell.

As of late Monday afternoon, approximately 215 students had received two days of in-school suspension for truancy. Officials said a small number of students may have received harsher penalties because of previous incidents or may have been absent for other reasons.

Students who have in-school suspension are isolated in a room for the entire school day and given work to complete in a study hall environment. Students who protested and returned to class after an impromptu assembly with Tunnell were not penalized, he said.

I am not going to comment on the sheer lunacy of suspending students for their activism. I am pointing this example out to underscore the fact that young people are actively engaging in the important issues of the day.

Back in mid-March, my organization co-sponsored a youth-led teach in about juvenile justice. The young people who attended of course had a lot to say about these issues. One of our supporters and volunteers recorded interviews with some of the youth in attendance. If you are interested in some youth perspectives on juvenile justice issues, you can listen to raw or edited audio interviews here