Mass Incarceration. The New Jim Crow. The War on Drugs. Thanks to Professor Michelle Alexander these phrases are now intimately linked in the minds of social justice advocates and faith leaders as we begin a critical struggle for fairness, justice and human rights in the criminal courts, police precincts and prisons of America. The Next Movement is convinced that America can do better, and that the majority of Americans would want us to do better, if they knew the truth. The truth about systemic incarceration, structural second class status, completely uneven law enforcement practices, oppressive and selectively enforced laws that is filling the prisons of America.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

New Report Adds to the Case for Restorative Justice

A new report released today, "Policing Chicago Public Schools: A Gateway to the School-to-Prison Pipeline," provides fresh evidence of the downside of using police department officers as security in our public schools. Authored by Mariame Kaba and Frank Edwards, the report provides a fairly detailed view of the issue from a statistical perspective, and provides intelligent insight from two activist close to the issue:

  • During 2010 there were over 5,500 arrests of youth under age 18 - 27% of them female
  • African American's accounted for 76% of those arrested (while 45% of the student body)
  • 68% of all arrests on Chicago Public School (CPS) property were for four relatively minor categories of offense: Simple Battery (fighting), Drug Abuse Violations, Disorderly Conduct and Misc. Non-Index
Nearly 7 in 10 arrests on CPS property were for activities that in a different era, or perhaps a different school district, instead of an arrest, the situation would have been handled by school administration and parents.

One of the painful conclusions I come to after reading the report, and understanding how difficult it was for Ms. Kaba and Mr. Edwards to gather relevant information, is that folks are more interested in preserving false perceptions than securing the futures of these children.  They had to use information from the Chicago Police Department, which was limited to providing data by police district, instead of data from Chicago Public Schools, because CPS failed to respond, over several months, to a Freedom of Information Request.

Even the more general data points lead to several conclusions from the authors (paraphrased below):

  1. CPS needs to move beyond the rhetoric of restorative justice and fully fund credible restorative programs in the schools.
  2. CPS should provide timely and reliable data tracking the numbers of school-based arrests in CPS. Based on the advocacy of students and organizers, the New York City Council passed the “Student Safety Act” in early 2011. According to the New York Civil Liberties Union, “the Student Safety Act creates accountability and transparency over police behavior in our schools. Specifically, the Student Safety Act; Requires the Department of Education to report to the City Council on the numbers of suspensions, expulsions, arrests and student-police altercations in schools. The City Council can then track and monitor whether discipline is being enforced equally for all students; Provides lawmakers and the public vital access to raw data on school disciplinary actions; Increases transparency at the NYPD School Safety Division and the Department of Education.” Chicago needs its own “Student Safety Act.”
  3. CPS should re-direct resources away from policing to enrichment programs that will support the healthy development of students.
  4. Finally, we call on policymakers, law enforcement, and school administrators to ensure the privacy of student records. We strongly oppose the efforts to violate student privacy by increasing “information- sharing” between law enforcement and educational institutions.
In the end, the difficulty in obtaining real accountability from our elected and appointed officials is exacerbated by a lack of better information . . . information that they control. We should demand that all information related to the criminalizing of our children be readily available AND that our schools institute policies that resolve youthful indiscretions with restorative justice practices; practices and procedures that keep them in school and progressing toward a future that does not include the criminal justice system.

Read the complete report from Project Nia by clicking here and find out more about Project Nia by visiting their web site.