On October 27, The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Alabama and the Southern Poverty Law Center will host a one-day conference designed to address factors which lead to students’ involvement in the juvenile and criminal justice systems. The Student Success Summit will feature local and national speakers who will address what is referred to as the “school-to-prison pipeline.”
“That’s basically the roots that researchers have identified that often lead to kids going into the system,” said SPLC Associate Legal Director Ebony Howard. She explained that the pipeline is created by policies and practices in school that push students into the criminal justice system.
“What researchers and government agencies have found is that these children are overwhelmingly of color,” she said. “So what we know is that, even though black kids and white kids engage in the same type of misbehavior, black children are disciplined far more harshly than white children are.” Howard explained that the difference in treatment is widely unconscious and happens regardless of the race of teachers and administrators.
Each panel will each address one factor of the pipeline, from alternative discipline in schools to educational programs within the criminal justice system. Speakers will include Executive Director Mo Canady of the National Association of School Resource Officers, and Dr. Aaron Kupchik, a researcher from the University of Delaware who has published books on the subject of punishing children in schools. J.W. Carpenter from the Birmingham Education Foundation will be among local speakers, as well as Frank Adams, president of the A. G. Gaston Boys and Girls Club.
According to Howard, a child’s first contact with the juvenile justice system increases his or her likelihood to drop out of high school and have more contact with the system later on. “And you can imagine that the more and more contact you have with the justice system means that you have increased the likelihood you’ll have contact with the criminal system as you get older,” she said. “And so, by introducing kids to the system in just the first instance, you’re starting them down a path that they might not be able to turn back from.”
In order to address the problem, researchers have proposed alternative methods of disciplining students. One speaker will be Adolphus Graves from Clayton County, Georgia, who worked with Judge Steven Teske, who created a program called the School Offense Protocol, Howard said. In the School Offense Protocol, rather than arresting students for a minor misconduct, school resource officers give students a series of warnings. “And basically, it’s a ‘Three strikes and you’re out’ kind of thing, where the student gets three [chances] before they are arrested,” Howard said. “Judge Teske and Mr. Gray found that this reduced arrests in Clayton County a lot, because it slowed down the process of pushing students into the criminal justice system.”
Howard emphasized that the subjects which the summit will address are important not only for the students, but for the future of the country. “We have to realize that we are looking at opportunities lost,” she said. “Each child that we push into the system in the name of being tough on crime or tough on kids is one other person that won’t become a doctor, that won’t become an architect, that won’t go on to accomplish great things to contribute to our state and to our country.”
She urged community members to attend the summit and learn more about the issues facing the nation’s children. “I think the first step is listening and realizing that there is a problem, and that’s why I encourage people to come out to the Student Success Summit,” Howard said. “The point of the summit is not to point fingers or blame teachers or schools or juvenile courts or anything. The point here is to bring all community stakeholders to the table to be able to listen to what the problems are and to explore some of the options for how to fix it.”
The Student Success Conference will be held on Thursday, October 27 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Harbert Center, 2019 Fourth Ave. N. The event is free and open to the public.