Last week, I offered a summary of some of the key issues related to the prison industrial complex in 2013. Since the main focus of my work is actually juvenile justice & youth criminalization, I decided to make another list that addresses some key 2013 developments in those areas.
1. The U.S. youth incarceration rate continues to decline but we still lock up too many children.
One of the most heartening trends over the past decade has been the steady decrease in the use of incarceration to address youth crime and misbehavior.
According to a new report:
“For the 2001-to-2011 ten-year period, the number of confined youth declined by 41% nationwide, or an annual average decline of 4.1% — a dramatic drop since 2000, when a record-setting 108,802 youth were held in detention centers awaiting trial or confined by the courts in juvenile facilities in the U.S. The nationwide decline in 2011 (from 70,793 to 61,423 youth) continues the trend from the previous year (the latest for which data is available), which showed youth confinement was reduced by 32% nationwide from 2001-2010.”
Unfortunately, poor black children remain disportionately targeted.
2. School closings in urban centers overwhelmingly impacted youth of color (black children in particular)..
Victor Hugo has written that: “He who opens a school door, closes a prison.” It stands to reason that the reverse is also true: “He who closes a school door, opens a prison.” Chicago roiled in 2013 with grassroots opposition to the proposed closures of over 50 schools. Opponents contended that these school closings were racist as they would disproportionately target black students and increase the likelihood that they would be pushed out of school. Some background resources about Chicago’s school closings can be found here.
Some of the most vocal opponents of school closures in Chicago, Philadelphia, D.C. etc… were students themselves. 9 year old Asean Johnson became a household name when he spoke out forcefully against Rahm Emanuel at a rally that I attended.
Students at Williams Elementary organized a sit-in to protest their school’s proposed closing.
In the end, Rahm Emanuel and his appointed school board shut down nearly 50 schools. This was the largest mass school closing in the U.S.
Last month, I spent the day at a high school on the West side of Chicago. I was there with my friend the talented Debbie Southorn. Our goal was to document how this particular urban school manages student safety. Debbie is a filmmaker and an organizer. We are both keenly interested in how to interrupt the school-to-prison pipeline. After the Newtown massacre, both of us were concerned that the response might be to add more cops to our schools.
Immediately after President Obama unveiled his gun reform proposals in January, I got to work organizing against more police in schools. With several other people, I launched the Yes To Counselors, No To Cops Campaign. In just a few short weeks, our loose coalition of individuals and groups hosted two community meetings, created a website, launched a petition, letter and postcard campaign, organized a call-in day to our Senators, and more. As part of this work, we also wanted to demonstrate that there are urban schools serving black and brown youth that do not rely on harsh disciplinary policies or law enforcement to achieve their goal of ensuring a safe educational environment. I enlisted Debbie to help and the result is the short film that you can watch below. I have also written a few words about the school as well.
Please share the video with others who might be interested in learning about how we can keep students safe without relying on law enforcement and harsh disciplinary policies. In Debbie’s words, NLCP “cultivate[s] school safety and peace culture in really transformative ways! (Spoiler alert – without cops or metal detectors, with counselors, nonviolence training and political education).”
I am indebted to Debbie for all of her hard work on this film. She filmed and edited it in record time. I think that the film is wonderful and I am grateful beyond all words. Thank you Debbie. Thanks also to our friends at Free Spirit Media for sharing some of their archival footage with us. Finally, a huge debt of gratitude to the administration, staff, teachers, and most importantly students at NLCP for welcoming us (on short notice) and letting us share your story.
This is a print by Sarah Atlas that is included in the Black and Blue exhibit. If you are in Chicago, you are invited to stop by for the exhibit opening on March 19. Details are here.
From the Dignity in Schools Campaign:
On Monday, March 4th, youth of color from across the country held a rally on the grounds of the U.S. Capitol followed by a march to the White House to call on Congress and the Obama administration to reject school safety policies that criminalize students of color, immigrant youth, LGBTQ students and students with disabilities, and push them out of school.Youth and parent leaders from states including California, Georgia, Mississippi, New York, and Washington, DC gathered to give testimony about the impact of increased police presence, armed guards, metal detectors and zero tolerance discipline policies in their schools and communities and to demand that the voices of youth of color be included in the conversation on gun violence prevention and school safety.
Speakers urged legislators and the White House to focus on investing in proven positive approaches to discipline like Positive Behavior Intervention and Supports (PBIS), social and emotional learning, Restorative Justice, and the hiring and training of counselors, social workers, and community intervention workers.
The rally began at 4pm with an opening speech by Jasmine Jauregui, a youth organizer with the Youth Justice Coalition from Los Angeles, “We all traveled many miles to share the solutions that communities and students of color are proposing because we strongly believe that the solutions coming from Congress are not what will keep us safe. We have seen how attempts to increase school safety with armed guards, police and prison-like conditions have failed. We want to be certain that no student gets left behind in the legal system. We demand college prep, not prison prep”.
Please read Jasmine Jauregui’s opening speech. It is excellent. Here is video of her speech as well.
You can also listen to this radio report about the rally.
Colorlines also produced a terrific video of youth speaking about these issues.
D.U.M.M.I.E. (Daring Use of My Mental Intelligence Enlightens)
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
Does it matter if I represent blue or red or how my life
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
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
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
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)
Early last year, I was on WBEZ talking about a report that I co-authored titled “Policing Chicago Public Schools.” I discussed the fact that black students in Chicago Public Schools (CPS) are disproportionately arrested and recommended that we rely on restorative practices for addressing disciplinary issues instead.
In CPS about 25 students a day are arrested on school property. The Chicago Tribune reports that in Illinois, minority students are disproportionately targeted for arrests. This is of course unsurprising. Below is a chart from their report:
We spend over $70 million on school security in CPS (with $25 million going to the Chicago Police Department to provide two police officers for each high school). In addition, last year, the Chicago Public Schools launched a Compstat “school-safety” partnership in order to further cement the ties between schools and law enforcement:
“The program brings police, principals and religious leaders together on a weekly basis to discuss crime and safety plans, analyze data and continually evaluate the implementation of those plans.”
A few weeks ago, the Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics released its annual “America’s Children: Key National Indicators of Well-Being” report. I always look forward to reading the report because it usually challenges the popular conceptions (especially those advanced by the media) that our children and youth are all in deep trouble. Nothing could actually be further from the truth. In fact, these reports usually paint a portrait of a resilient group of people who are thriving IN SPITE of adult malpractice. Despite the fact that more children and youth are living in poverty, less teens are having babies and less of them are committing violent crimes. One might not know this if you simply relied on the mass media to learn about how youth are faring in our society.
Below is a chart that I think can’t be published enough. It highlights the fact that since around 1993, the percentage of serious violent crimes that involved youth has been steadily declining from a high of 26 percent in 1993 to 18 percent in 2010. In other words, the vast majority of the people in this country who commit serious violent crimes in the U.S. are adults.