Advocates Call For A Shift From Arrests To Prevention
An alarming number of black girls are getting caught up in the School to Prison Pipeline.
Although African-American female students make up less than 17 percent female students nationwide, they now comprise a third of girls who are referred to law enforcement – and 43 percent of girls who have been arrested in school, according to recent data from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights.
The growing number of girls being funneled into the juvenile justice system is the result of skewed school policies and practices sabotaging black students education, steering them into jail instead of into a cap and gown, advocates said at a panel last week on the effects of the School To Prison Pipeline at the Congressional Black Caucus Annual Legislative Conference in Washington, DC.
“Our girls are in crisis,” said Nona Jones of the Pace Center for Girls, which offers education and therapy to at-risk young women as an alternative to locking them up. “We’ve got to invest in prevention, and we’ve got to invest in it now.”
Perceived infractions like dress code violations, having an attitude – even having natural hair are landing black girls in cuffs. In 2013, Florida teen Kiera Wilmot was arrested and then expelled after her science experiment exploded in class.
“This is what we’re dealing with in schools,” Monica Speight, of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, said, “subjective policies that are pushing kids out of school.”
Panelist Fatima Goss-Graves, senior vice president for programs at the National Women’s Law Center, said school officials and police are failing to tackle the root causes of the more serious violations, like truancy or shoplifting. For example, Graves said a girl may be stealing because there’s no food at home, or may be missing school because she’s pregnant.
“Nationally, approximately 73 percent of girls in the criminal justice system have a history of physical or sexual abuse,” Goss-Graves said, citing stats from the nonprofit Human Rights Project For Girls.
Instead of using arrests to control bad behavior in schools, the advocates pointed to community-based programs that use education and mentoring to help the child get back on track. The Youth Promise Act – introduced last May by Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Virginia) – would use federal money to fund intervention programs for kids at risk, a cheaper alternative to locking them up. The Congressman is working to build more bipartisan support to move the bill forward, his spokeswoman told BOSSIP.
“There are so many things the child is dealing with before they get to school,” Speight said. “They’re misbehaving for a reason. “The question is why.”