The school-to-prison pipeline is a reality for too many youths in Oklahoma. This system is further exacerbated by high child poverty rates, low academic achievement and high rates of trauma and maltreatment among kids in our state. That is why the Institute has embarked on a journey to improve the practices surrounding the juvenile justice system. More intervention and prevention resources must be made available to provide much needed mental health and substance abuse services to struggling teens and adolescents. Furthermore, responsible policies must be put in place to break down institutional silos and support child serving organizations assisting youth in our state as they learn from their mistakes and route a course into responsible adulthood.
What is the school-to-prison pipeline?
The school-to-prison pipeline is a social phenomenon where legal policies, education policies, and social constructs funnel struggling children from schools to jails and prisons. These students may be struggling with learning disabilities, coping with unhealthy behavioral problems caused by abuse or neglect, and just trying to get by in poverty. Instead of receiving the education and support needed, students fall behind academically, begin acting out in the classroom and are expelled under zero-tolerance policies that punish students for the smallest infractions. Once suspended or expelled from school, idle students are easily pulled into the prison pipeline.
2014 Legislative Session
While the war cannot be won in a single legislative session, the Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy began by tracking juvenile justice related bills and gearing up to battle legislation that would likely strengthen the so-called school-to-prison pipeline. We also worked to identify proposed policies that would improve the current system and advocate for their successful passage.
Bills heard this week in committee included two juvenile justice bills on the radar of the Institute. These included HB 2331 and SB 1914. HB 2331 would have required public schools be notified any time a child is arrested for any offense. This bill would have created a world where children could be subject to suspension or expulsion from school when no proof of wrongdoing existed. The Institute successfully advocated against this bill and we are relieved to announce HB 2331 failed to pass out of committee. Conversely, the Institute supported SB 1914 this week in committee. SB 1914 requires that any arrest or detention cannot be considered an arrest, detention, or conviction on the child’s record. This measure protects children who are now attempting to become successful adults in the workforce. SB 1914 prevents the mistakes made in childhood from following individuals into their adult lives. The Institute will continue tracking this measure to ensure that our children are protected from their own mistakes.
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Did You Know?
Juvenile Justice by the Numbers:
- 599 juveniles were arrested for violent crimes in Oklahoma in 2010, which is a rate of 42.5/100,000 (Source)
- Black children make up only 8% of Oklahoma’s child population, but represent 33% of detention admissions (Source)
- For 67% of the 17-18 year-olds in the Office of Juvenile Affairs (OJA) facilities, this is the first time they have been in school for a number of years (Source)
- Of those enrolled in OJA education programs in state fiscal year 2012, 51% required special education services due to specific learning disabilities, emotional disturbances or other health impairments that impede the ability to learn (Source)
- Fewer female juvenile offenders are placed in detention (Source)
- Oklahoma spends nearly 4 times as much money to house youth in residential placement than we spend per pupil in public school