December 14, 2012
Congressional Hearing Calls for Ending the School-to-Prison Pipeline
On Tuesday, December 11, Illinois Senator Richard Durbin, chair of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Human Rights, held the first-ever congressional hearing on how to effectively end the “school-to-prison pipeline”—the practice of criminalizing student misconduct that increases the chances that students, particularly low-income students of color, will end up involved in the justice system.
In written testimony submitted to the Subcommittee on behalf of Juvenile Law Center, attorneys Kate Burdick and Lauren Fine pointed out that children of color continue to be overrepresented in under-resourced schools. Studies show that African American male students are disciplined at far greater numbers than their white classmates, and explanations for that are far-ranging.
The pipeline does not end at the moment a youth is adjudicated delinquent or convicted of a crime. Correctional settings for youth typically provide a poor-quality education in a climate where security, not academics, is the dominant concern. These youth often receive fewer hours of instruction than their peers in the community, and have little to no opportunity for career and technical education.
Researchers estimate that as many as 70% of youth in the juvenile justice system have a disability that impairs their learning, yet correctional placements often fail to provide appropriate special education services. Even in the rare instance that a youth has a positive educational experience while in placement, difficulties transitioning back to the youth’s home school—including problems transferring records and credits, and delayed or denied re-enrollment—cause the youth to fall further behind and, too often, drop out of school.
Juvenile Law Center’s testimony recommended that the Subcommittee promote policies to:
Dismantling the school-to-prison pipeline is one of Juvenile Law Center’s key initiatives. In addition to our ongoing work toward this goal, we recently launched a National Working Group on Juvenile Justice and Education to help ensure that youth in juvenile detention and correctional facilities receive a high-quality education. Kate Burdick joined Juvenile Law Center this year as an Equal Justice Works Fellow (sponsored by Greenberg Traurig, LLP), working exclusively to advance and enforce the education rights of youth ages 14-21 placed in foster care or juvenile justice institutions.
Juvenile Law Center commends Sen. Durbin for taking an important step to address this issue to help our country’s youth stay in school and improve their opportunities for success.
Written testimony from advocacy organizations across the nation is available on Dignity in Schools' website.