Category: Juvenile Justice

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.

Feb 11 2015

Prison Prep For Black Girls…

Last week, the African American Policy Forum (AAPF) and Columbia Law School’s Center for Intersectionality and Social Policy Studies released a report titled “Black Girls Matter: Pushed Out, Overpoliced and Underprotected.”

The report found that while black boys were suspended three times more than white boys, black girls were suspended SIX times more than white girls.

source: Center for Intersectionality and Social Policy Studies

source: Center for Intersectionality and Social Policy Studies

For those of us who focus on ending the school-to-prison pipeline, this finding is unfortunately not a surprise. The trend toward the increasing criminalization of black girls in schools and society is not new.

Recently, Dr. Connie Wun published a very good article (PDF) about the role of anti-black racism in school discipline and punishment for girls. I highly recommend reading the article for a better understanding of how & why black girls are particularly targeted for harsh punishment in schools.

Regular readers might recall that I wrote about a Black girl named Dorothy Young a couple of years ago. Dorothy was sentenced to a reformatory for allegedly cursing at a white boy in 1969:

For allegedly calling a white boy a “bastard,” telling him where to kiss her and using the words “damn” and “goddamn” on a school bus, Dorothy Young, 14, of Sylvester, Ga., is confined indefinitely to a reformatory known as the Regional Youth Development Center in Sandersville, Ga. She is the first child sent there from her county in three years.

Dorothy’s sister, Yvonnne, 11, was accused of using similar profane language to a white boy a year older than she and is serving a year’s probation.

You can read the rest of Dorothy and her sister’s stories here to see how schools have played a role in criminalizing black girls for decades. Unfortunately as the “Black Girls Matter: Pushed out, Overpoliced, and Underprotected” report makes clear this issue remains undertheorized and too often neglected since the focus has been disproportionately on the criminalization of black boys in schools. However with scholarship like Dr. Wun’s and the report by AAPF along with on the ground organizing, maybe we will begin to better address black girls’ needs and concerns.

Jan 18 2015

“Free Us All:” Love in Action in Chicago

It was Dr. Martin Luther King’s actual birthday on Thursday and Chicago was in the mood to celebrate through study, action and protest. As part of an effort to #ReclaimMLK, Chicagoans demanded reparations for police torture survivors, gathered to discuss the radical roots of the Black Freedom Movement, called out a list of the system’s crimes against those most marginalized and finally marched by the hundreds in solidarity with a youth-led protest on the near Westside of Chicago.

Listen to these words offered by Kaleb Autman, a 12 year old student at Village Leadership Academy & co-organizer of the ReclaimMLK march and by Page May, a young organizer with We Charge Genocide who helped VLA students bring their vision to fruition. Listen to their words to better understand the current rebellions led mostly by young people of color taking place across the country.

I was invited to speak at Thursday’s rally and march. I had jotted down a few words but when it came time for me to speak I decided to focus on what was in front of me rather than on what I had planned to share. You see, by the time I was called to speak, we were in front of the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center (Chicago’s youth jail) and I could hear the children who were locked in cells insistently pounding on their windows.

photo by Sarah Jane Rhee (1/15/14)

photo by Sarah Jane Rhee (1/15/14)

Their message to us on the outside was urgent and unequivocal: “Free Us.”

photo by Silvia Ines Gonzalez  (1/15/15)

photo by Silvia Ines Gonzalez (1/15/15)

I turned and looked to my right. I saw my friends of the Chicago Light Brigade holding light boards spelling out “Free Us All” as they projected the words “Indict the System” on the side of the courthouse. I struggled to hold back tears.

photo by Sarah Jane Rhee (1/15/15)

photo by Sarah Jane Rhee (1/15/15)

It was the vision of a group of Black elementary school students that we march 2.5 miles from their school to the juvenile jail to underscore how close they are to being funneled through the pipeline to prison. My friend Kelly Hayes, who helped organize the march, wrote beautifully about the proximity of incarceration for these students:

VLA student Jakya Hobbs told us, “It is this system that keeps us from the world.” Her use of the word “us” was very intentional in this context. These student organizers see no distinction between themselves and the incarcerated, and rightly believe that as long as black and brown children are criminalized and caged, no young person is truly free. In elementary school, they understand what it took me decades to comprehend: Prisons don’t simply confine prisoners. They confine hopes and ambitions, and dampen the faith of those who might otherwise dare to believe in better things. Living as a black or brown person in a country where the prison industrial complex cages over two million of our brothers and sisters means walking through the world with the knowledge that, while you may have eluded the slave catcher, many of your people will not.

photo by Bob Simpson (1/15/15)

photo by Bob Simpson (1/15/15)

Over 600 people braved the Chicago cold to march alongside the young organizers of the protest. I was so proud to live in this city as people of all ages, genders, class backgrounds and races responded to their call to action. I felt hopeful.

photo by Osei David Andrews-Hutchinson‎ (1/15/15)

photo by Osei David Andrews-Hutchinson‎ (1/15/15)

One of the children in the jail scrawled out the words “I <3 You” on his window. It read crystal clear to those of us standing outside of the jail. People responded by calling out and signing their love in kind.

photo by Sarah Jane Rhee (1/15/15)

photo by Sarah Jane Rhee (1/15/15)

Thursday’s #ReclaimMLK march was a manifestation of love in action. It’s that simple and that complex. If these uprisings and rebellions are to develop into a movement, love will have to be centered alongside power. This is a truth gleaned from past movements and leaders:

Power, properly understood, is the ability to achieve purpose. It is the strength required to bring about social, political, or economic changes. In this sense power is not only desirable but necessary in order to implement the demands of love and justice. One of the greatest problems of history is that the concepts of love and power are usually contrasted as polar opposites. Love is identified with a resignation of power and power with a denial of love. What is needed is a realization that power without love is reckless and abusive and that love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice. Justice at its best is love correcting everything that stands against love.

Source: pp. 324-325 in The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr. Edited by Clayborne Carson (1998).

Photo by Bob Simpson (1/15/15)

Photo by Bob Simpson (1/15/15)

In the end though, I will remember three words from this action: “Free Us All.”

photo by Bob Simpson (1/15/15)

photo by Bob Simpson (1/15/15)

These words will ring out as we continue to struggle and fight for a more just and peaceful world. “Free Us All” is our North Star helping us to find our way in our journey toward liberation.

Jan 08 2015

Video: #BlackLivesMatter Chicago

I thought that I would be able to ease into the New Year. Hahaha jokes on me. I am busier than ever so I won’t be able to blog regularly for the next couple of weeks at least.

I am happy to say, however, that the work that I get to be part of feels promising. We’ll see.

In the meantime, my friend Kelly put together this wonderful short video documenting some of the #BlackLivesMatter actions in Chicago. It’s inspiring so I thought I’d share it with you. You can also read Kelly’s post about some of the Chicago-based protests and actions that inspired her in 2014 here.

Oct 12 2014

The U.S. Tortures Children…

wrapsystem

“The Yell County Juvenile Detention Center uses this restraint mechanism called the “wrap system”. Some juvenile detainees call it “torture”. Now, the Arkansas Department of Human Services has sent a cease and desist letter to Yell County officials asking them to stop using the device.”(Source: Fox 16 News)

Oct 09 2014

#NoSchoolPushout: LGBTQ Students (Infographic)

BeyondBullyingv2

Read more information here.

Yesterday, GSA Network and Crossroads Collaborative released a set of reports finding that lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and questioning (LGBTQ) youth, gender nonconforming youth, and youth of color not only face bullying and harassment from peers, but also harsh and disparate discipline from school staff, relatively higher levels of policing and surveillance, and blame for their own victimization.

To accompany the reports, Advancement Project, a national civil rights organization, and GSA Network also released a set of policy recommendations based on the research for school staff, policy makers, and young people advocating for change.

Download the reports:

Join them for a tweetchat on #LGBTpushout on Thursday 10/9 at 3pm PST/6pm to discuss these findings as part of the National Week of Action against School Pushout!

Oct 06 2014

#NoSchoolPushout: The Girl to Prison Pipeline

Much of the discussion about the school to prison pipeline focuses on the plight of young men of color (particularly black boys).  This is understandable given the dire statistics that illustrate how susceptible they are to being pushed out of school into future incarceration.  The most often cited statistic is that 1 out of 3 black boys born in 2001 is likely to spend part of his life in prison.

However young women are also impacted by the school to prison pipeline.  Their trajectory is different.  Incarcerated girls are often victims of sexual and physical abuse in their early lives, and this is often neither recognized nor identified by school officials or other adults.

Sociologist Beth Richie has made the case that a key to understanding and responding to women as offenders is understanding their status as crime victims[1]. Laurie Schaffner (2007) extends this argument by suggesting that “young women adjudicated delinquent in juvenile court report suffering inordinate amounts of emotional, physical, and sexual trauma in early childhood and adolescence.”[2] She contends that “a disproportionate number of girls come into the juvenile justice system with family histories of physical and sexual violence and emotional neglect” (p.1229).

Many of the problems that young women face that relate to school failure and potential future incarceration stem from physical and sexual abuse.  This has led some to characterize the experience of interpersonal violence as a “Girl Prison Pipeline.”  In order to interrupt the girl prison pipeline then, particular attention must be paid to the physical and sexual abuse histories of young women.

Over the last few years, black girls in particular have been increasingly subjected to harsh disciplinary policies that push them out of school. A new report, Unlocking Opportunity for African American Girls: A Call to Action for Educational Equity, released a couple of weeks ago suggests that:

“In the 2011-12 school year, 12 percent of all African American female pre-K-12 students were suspended from school, six times the rate of white girls and more than any other group of girls and several groups of boys – despite research showing that African American children do not misbehave more frequently than their peers.”

Girls of color and particularly black girls are increasingly pushed out of school and criminalized. But this story is not a new one. You can read about a young woman named Dorothy Young’s story here, for example. Also watch this video about Kiera Wilmot’s more recent incident:

Further Reading and Resources

Disciplining Violence by Connie Wun

Girls in the System by Rachel Marie-Crane Williams

Unlocking Opportunity for African American Girls: A Call to Action for Educational Equity by the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC) and the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF)

Race, Gender and the School-to-Prison Pipeline: Expanding Our Discussion to Include Black Girls by Monique Morris (2012)

School to Prison Pipeline for Girls: The Role of Physical and Sexual Abuse by Sandra B. Simkins, Amy E. Hirsch, Erin McNamara Horvat, and Marjorie B. Moss


[1] Research on Women and Girls in the Justice System: Plenary Papers of the 1999 Conference on Criminal Justice Research and Evaluation – Enhancing Policy and Practice through Research, Volume 3. (September 2000). Office of Justice Programs. NCJ 180973.

[2] Schaffner, Laurie. 2007. Violence Against Girls Provokes Girls’ Violence: From Private Injury to Public Harm. Violence against Women, volume 13 no. 12. Pp.1229-1248.

Oct 03 2014

#NoSchoolPushout: Defining the School-to-Prison Pipeline

dscposter2014-page-001 Tomorrow kicks of the 5th annual National Week of Action Against School Pushout. This year, my organization will join with youth, parents, teachers and community members in over 40 cities to resist school pushout and policing. Project NIA released a short paper this morning documenting the gains and challenges in the fight to end Chicago’s school to prison pipeline. I hope that those interested in these issues will read the paper authored by my friend, Dr. Michelle VanNatta.

I thought that I would use the occasion of the week of action to offer an introduction to the school-to-prison pipeline for those who might be new to the concept. I’ll also provide some resources for those interested in further study.

Defining the School-to-Prison Pipeline (STPP)

In an article that we wrote earlier this year, Erica Meiners and I defined the STPP in this way:

“Less a pipeline than a nexus or a swamp, the STPP is generally used to refer to interlocking sets of structural and individual relationships in which youth, primarily of color, are funneled from schools and neighborhoods into under- or unemployment and prisons.

While the US public education system has historically diverted non-white communities toward under-education, non-living wage work, participation in a permanent war economy, and/or incarceration, the development of the world’s largest prison nation over the last three decades has strengthened policy, practice, and ideological linkages between schools and prisons. Non-white, non-heterosexual, and/or non-gender conforming students are targeted for surveillance, suspended and expelled at higher rates, and are much more likely to be charged, convicted, and removed from their homes, or otherwise to receive longer sentences.”

Facts and Figures

To help provide some context for the scope and impact(s) of harsh school disciplinary policies, Project NIA created a short quiz to test your knowledge. Thanks to @cronehead and @MuffMacGuff who digitized this quiz. How do you fare?

Critique of the STPP Concept

Dr. Damien Sojoyner (2013) has challenged the concept of the school to prison pipeline. The abstract of his paper titled “Black Radicals Make for Bad Citizens: Undoing the Myth of the School to Prison Pipeline (PDF) summarizes his main argument:

“Over the past ten years, the analytic formation of the school to prison pipeline has come to dominate the lexicon and general common sense with respect to the relationship between schools and prisons in the United States. The concept and theorization that undergirds its meaning and function do not address the root causes that are central to complex dynamics between public education and prisons. This paper argues that in place of the articulation of the school to prison pipeline, what is needed is a nuanced and historicized understanding of the racialized politics pertaining to the centrality of education to Black liberation struggles. The result of such work indicates that the enclosure of public education foregrounds the expansion of the prison system and consequently, schools are not a training ground for prisons, but are the key site at which technologies of control that govern Black oppression are deemed normal and necessary.”

Others have offered other critiques of the STPP concept pointing out, for example, that we need think of the process of educational and societal marginalization as one that in fact begins from the cradle or even the womb.

Activism and Advocacy

The past decade has found increasing numbers of policy makers, advocates, academics, educators, parents, students, and organizers focusing explicitly on the relationships between education and imprisonment. A lot of organizing has happened around the issue of school pushout. The Dignity in Schools Campaign (organizers of the National Week of Action) brings together over 75 organizations across the country who are working to transform school discipline policies.

Just this week, advocates and organizers in California presided over Governor Jerry Brown’s signing of a bill to limit “school administrators’ use of an offense called “willful defiance” to suspend students in California schools.” This was the result of a long-term organizing campaign. Earlier, I referenced our newly released paper that documents some of the gains made by Chicago and Illinois organizers in the fight to interrupt the STPP.

Here are some organizations and projects advocating and organizing to end the STPP.

Teaching Youth About STPP: Curriculum Resources

We at Project NIA have developed several resources that can be used by educators and organizers to discuss the STPP with young people in particular. These resources have also been used by many people to lead discussions with adults as well. Others have also developed useful tools for teaching about the STPP.

Curriculum: Suspension Stories

Curriculum: NYCLU School-to-Prison Pipeline Workshop

Comic: School to Prison Pipeline by Rachel Marie-Crane Williams

One page comic with discussion questions: Sent Down the Drain

Find many other audio, video, etc… resources at Suspension Stories

Further Study 

Disrupting the School-to-Prison Pipeline Edited by Bahena, Cooc, Currie-Rubin, Kuttner and Ng (2012)

From Education to Incarceration: Dismantling the School-to-Prison Pipeline Edited by Nocella, Parmar and Stovall (2014)

Punished: Policing the Lives of Black and Latino Boys by Victor Rios (2011)

There is a list of other reading here and here.

Over the course of this next week, I will be posting information about the specific components that make up the STPP. Stay tuned!

Aug 26 2014

Hope in the Struggle: Chicago’s Young People Resist…

One of my touchstones, the brilliant scholar-activist Barbara Ransby, tweeted something yesterday that I agree with completely.

I write about the activism and organizing of young people in Chicago a lot. I do so because my work and purpose are focused on supporting young people to make their lives more livable. It’s been a long-term commitment. So when other adults persistently disparage and discount ‘young people these days,’ I can’t relate. The young people who I am privileged to know are some of the most talented, creative, dedicated and intelligent activists I’ve ever encountered in my now-over 25 years of organizing. This is a fact, lost on many to be sure, but true nonetheless.

Over the course of this summer, I’ve been engaged with several young people in a group called “We Charge Genocide” and I’ve paid close attention as they have taken the lead in writing a report, in creating workshops and trainings, in using social media to convey the message that oppressive policing must end, and in generously sharing their stories and talents. The source of my hope for the future is rooted in their gifts. We will win because of them.

I call out the young people of BYP 100, We Charge Genocide, Chicago Freedom School, Circles and Ciphers, Fearless Leading By the Youth, VOYCE, Chicago Students Union, Students for Health Equity, Black and Pink Chicago and many, many more that I am leaving out but are doing important work.

In just the past few weeks in Chicago, young people have spearheaded & co-organized a local National Moment of Silence vigil to commemorate the killing of Michael Brown and to stand in solidarity with the Ferguson community.

National Moment of Silence (photo by Kelly Hayes, 8/14/14)

National Moment of Silence (photo by Kelly Hayes, 8/14/14)

National Moment of Silence (photo by Kelly Hayes, 8/14/14)

National Moment of Silence (photo by Kelly Hayes, 8/14/14)

National Moment of Silence (photo by Bob Simpson, 8/14/14)

National Moment of Silence (photo by Bob Simpson, 8/14/14)

Read more »

Aug 14 2014

Youth-Created Video: Police Brutality Through The Ages

Last night, my comrade Tommy posted the following video and message on his Facebook Page:

Good evening,
Here is a powerful video a member of We Get Free Media, Joshua Penny Roberts, about Police Brutality. He connects the brutality that happened to a member of Kuumba Lynx outside our space this summer to a long history of it back to the most recent executions of ‪#‎EricGarner‬, ‪#‎MikeBrown‬, and ‪#‎EzellFord‬ at the hands of the police.
Watch and see and please share. Filmers include Tyjuan Reed and Esther Ashaye
‪#‎wegetfree‬ ‪#‎chicopwatch‬

I’m sharing the video below because it is timely.

Also, a reminder that today is the National Moment of Silence in solidarity with Michael Brown and all victims of police violence. Find details about your city here. I’ll be at the Chicago vigil at 6 pm. at Daley Plaza. Hope to see you there too.

nmos14