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New Initiative Targets ‘School-to-Prison’ Pipeline

By Nirvi Shah — July 21, 2011 1 min read
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A new undertaking from the U.S. Departments of Justice and Education targets school discipline policies that end up pushing children into the juvenile-justice system for crimes and rule-breaking on campus—and keeping them from pursuing their education.

Attorney General Eric Holder and Education Secretary Arne Duncan unveiled the Supportive School Discipline Initiative at a meeting of a Justice Department committee meeting Thursday afternoon.

“When our young people start getting locked up early... they start to move out of schools, out of the pipeline to success,” Mr. Duncan said. He recalled how when he led Chicago public schools, he found that 7 percent of schools were responsible for more than half of the arrests of young people in the city. A small group of principals were calling the police too often to deal with minor disciplinary issues, he said, while schools with similar demographics handled the same behavior problems in other ways.

“People wanted to do the right thing. They just didn’t know better,” he said. “So many of these children need assistance. What they don’t need is to be pushed out the door.”

The initiative announced Thursday has four parts:

  • building consensus for action among federal, state and local education and justice stakeholders;
  • collaborating on research and data collection needed to shape policy, such as evaluations of alternative disciplinary policies and interventions;
  • developing guidance to ensure school discipline policies and practices are in line with the federal civil rights laws;
  • and promoting awareness and knowledge about evidence-based and promising policies and practices.

Holder and Duncan referenced a report by the Council of State Governments Justice Center from earlier this week that found that more than half of all Texas middle and high school students were suspended or expelled at least once between 7th and 12th grades.

“I think these numbers are kind of a wake-up call,” Mr. Holder said. “It’s obvious we can do better.”

The departments will work with nonprofit and philanthropic groups including the Council of State Governments and the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges.

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