Zero tolerence schools lead to racial disparities, youth in prison

Imagine yourself getting in trouble at school for a simple dress code violation, like an inappropriate hoodie. You’d think the last thing to happen to you would be a ride to jail, yet for many in this country, it is a reality they must fear everyday.

The zero-tolerance policies of the 1990s created the school-to-prison pipelines. These pipelines help criminalize minor infractions of school rules, which lead students to be criminalized for behavior that should normally be handled at school. It funnels students out of school and into the juvenile and criminal justice systems.

Minorities and students with disabilities are already disciplined more under zero-tolerance policies, according to the Department of Education. With the school-to-prison pipeline operating in some communities, this unjustly places students at an early age into the prison system for seemingly minor offenses.

In August 2012, the Justice Department’s civil rights division wanted “meaningful negotiations” in 60 days to end the constitutional violations happening against students in Meridian, Miss. or else a federal lawsuit would be filed.

Those in charge failed to end the constitutional violations in time and the Justice Department filed a law suit in October 2010.

According to the Justice Department’s allegations, students were handcuffed and arrested in school and then incarcerated without probable cause, detained for more than 48 hours to wait for a hearing, made admissions to formal charges without being read their
Miranda rights, and not granted legal representation during the
juvenile justice process. The black students faced harsher
punishment than their white peers who were for the same
infractions.

These students weren’t always arrested for violent acts while at school. Some students were arrested for such minor violations as simple defiance and dress code violations.

Thankfully, on Wednesday, Attorney General Eric Holder and Pres. Obama issued new guidelines on classroom discipline to end disparities between how students of different races are disciplined.

“A routine school disciplinary infraction should land a student in the principal’s office, not in a police precinct,” Holder said in a news conference with CNN.

Ending racial discriminatory zero-tolerance policies and school-to-prison pipelines is vital to ensure all students have not only an equal chance of graduating, but starting a career once graduated from high school.

According to the government’s civil rights data from 2011-2012, black students were more than three times as likely as whites to be expelled or suspended from school, even though they only made up 15 percent of the students in the gathered data.

The acknowledgement by the Justice Department and Obama administration of disciplinary disparities between races is comforting; whether those recommendations, which are nonbinding, will actually do anything is unknown. Regardless of the outcome of zero-tolerance policies in American schools, the school-to-prison pipeline must be aggressively ended.

Human Rights Watch and the American Civil Liberties Union estimate that more than 95,000 people under the age of 19 were incarcerated in 2011.

While race is still a central issue in this country, the school-to-prison pipeline is just another example of its most recent manifestation.


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