Home News Center The First-Ever U.S. Senate Hearing on Ending the School-to-Prison Pipeline

The First-Ever U.S. Senate Hearing on Ending the School-to-Prison Pipeline

December 20, 2012

juvenile-justice-reform_capitol-domeOver 400 people were in attendance at last week's first-ever hearing on ending the school to prison pipeline — led by Illinois Senator Dick Durbin. Betsy Clark of the Illinois Juvenile Justice Initiative, an NJJN member, attended the hearing and summarized the event. --Ed.

Hearing Recap - [On Dec. 12, 2012], Illinois Senator Richard Durbin held the first federal hearing on the issue of "Ending the School to Prison Pipeline." Kudos to the Senator for addressing this critical topic, and to the Senator's staff for an incredibly well organized, effective and moving hearing.

The hearing was before a subcommittee, chaired by Sen. Durbin, of the Senate Judiciary Committee. It was put together with short notice, yet was packed – the hearing room was changed to accommodate 260 attendees, and an overflow room held 150 more folks watching the hearing on monitors.

Senator Durbin was joined by Senators Leahy, Blumenthal and Franken.

Sen. Durbin opened the hearing with a statement, noting the critical nature of the disparities in school discipline practices, and stating that this was the first congressional hearing ever held on what has been called the “school to prison pipeline”. Sen. Durbin noted that states have come up with some creative initiatives to address youth violence, citing Redeploy Illinois as an example of Illinois’ successful innovative programming.

Senator Patrick Leahy took note of an article in The New York Times about the disparities and overreliance on incarceration due to mandatory minimum sentences, and stated that the high rate of U.S. incarceration, compared to other nations, was unacceptable: “Something is wrong here.”

Minorities, he said, were overrepresented by any measure. He pledged to reintroduce reauthorization of the federal Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act in the next Congress. Sen. Leahy stated, “These children should not be in adult prisons.” He took note of the potential of the Reconnecting Homeless Youth Act and the Second Chance Act, and said these are things that really affect every community.

"As a nation we can do better. As a nation for the sake of our soul, we must do better," said Sen. Patrick Leahy.

Rep. Robert Scott handed out charts detailing that the rate of U.S. incarceration is the highest rate of any nation in the world, and similarly, that the youth incarceration rate in the U.S. is the highest in the world. Rep. Scott suggested that if we reduced the African-American incarceration rate in the worst ten states to 500 per 100,000 (incarceration rates over this rate are counterproductive to reducing crime, according to the Pew Center on the States), we could shift the savings to our most vulnerable children.

Rep. Scott concluded that we must dismantle the cradle to prison pipeline, and replace it with a cradle to college/career pipeline. He cited a quotation that it is easier to prepare strong children than to repair broken men.

Rep. Danny Davis urged that the federal government lead an effort to address the school to prison pipeline. He noted this is an elusive and complex issue that has led to rates of more youth in prison in the U.S. than any other nation. Rep. Davis urged that the U.S. examine school discipline data within civil rights data collection, using disparate data to direct supports and interventions like Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports, and Social and Emotional Learning.

Deborah Delisle, Assistant Secretary for Elementary and Secondary Education, U.S. Dept. of Education, testified about the potential to use the Dept. of Education’s Office of Civil Rights to monitor for disparities in school discipline practices. She stated that their 2012 data collection highlighted an overreliance on disciplinary practices that lead to justice system involvement based on minor acts of misconduct that could be more effectively handled through Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports. She concluded that the Dept. of Education has a strong commitment to equity in addressing school discipline issues.

Melodee Hanes, Acting Administrator, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, U.S. Dept. of Justice, discussed the pervasive use of court referrals for minor school discipline issues. Ms. Hanes praised Philadelphia Defender Robert Listenbee for his work to address disparities in school discipline practices through his participation on the Federal Advisory Committee on Juvenile Justice.

Ms. Hanes noted that the Dept of Justice and the Dept of Education are partnering on recommendations. Their combined Supportive School Discipline Initiative is looking into research on what works, successful collaborative approaches, and dissemination and education of successful approaches.

Ms. Hanes noted that as soon as youth enter the juvenile justice system, their chance of moving into the adult justice system increases to 50%. She stated her office has tried to steer formula dollars toward states to decrease disproportionate impacts from disparate school discipline policies and practices.

Promising Practices Panel –

  • Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine testified about the success of RECLAIM Ohio, 
  • Clayton County Juvenile Court Judge Steven Teske testified about successful implementation of community based services and interventions through a system of care as part of an initiative to reduce youth in juvenile court (probation officer caseloads dropped from 150 to 25, with a corresponding drop in recidivism). Judge Teske noted that Georgia is considering adopting a RECLAIM Ohio approach in its next legislative session,
  • Edward Ward, of Blocks Together in Chicago, talked about the success of restorative justice efforts to address youth school discipline issues. This twenty-year-old Chicagoan is an honor student at DePaul University who grew up on the west side of Chicago. He testified that he witnessed many examples of disparate school discipline practices. In the most moving comment of the hearing, he noted that his classmates were “convinced they no longer mattered.”
  • Andrew Coulson from The Cato Institute in Washington, D.C. urged that private schools could be more flexible than public schools in addressing school discipline.
  • Judith Browne Dianis of The Advancement Project testified that a collaborative approach is critical, and young people must be involved.

Sen. Durbin ended by noting that the large attendance at the hearing indicated broad concern about disparities in school discipline policies and practices, and said the time has come to address of ending the school to prison pipeline.

>> VIDEO: Watch a recording of the hearing.

>> Press Release from Sen. Durbin.

Photo: PoliticalActivityLaw

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