Sunday, January 12, 2014

Nebraska's School to Prison Pipeline

The Federal Department of Education has figured out something that the State of Nebraska hasn’t yet:  The School to Prison pipeline is ruining the lives of thousands of children.  If you're not familiar with the School to Prison pipeline, read the article below:

Nebraska's "excessive absenteeism" law is part of that pipeline.  It is throwing thousands of Nebraska children into the juvenile justice system each year -- 3,000 annually in Douglas County alone.

Outside of Nebraska, school officials, teachers, youth, parents, social justice advocates, and criminal justice workers across the nation are seeking to end the trend of using our schools to criminalize our children.  Data repeatedly demonstrates that this criminalization is directly related to the increasing numbers of adults in prison or under law enforcement supervision, state budget woes, and numerous negative consequences to local communities.

However, within Nebraska, many lawmakers continue to resist legislation that will greatly decrease the number of children being criminalized for absence from school.

The Federal Dept. of Education, the Children's Defense Fund, and the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency, U.S. Dept. of Justice, have made research-informed recommendations that are opposite of Nebraska state law.  One of those recommendations is to decriminalize truancy and absenteeism, because school policies and practices should be focused on preventing youth from being referred to the criminal justice system.  Nowhere in the research or best practices recommendations does it suggest it's beneficial for any child to be thrown into the criminal justice system for absences from school.  On the contrary, the Department of Education and the U.S. Congress are hoping to reverse the tide and help construct a School to College Pipeline instead of a School to Prison Pipeline.  Isn’t that what we all would prefer?  One would think so.

According to Melodee Hanes, Acting Administrator of the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency, “as soon as a youth enters the juvenile justice system, their chance of moving into the adult system increases to 50%.”

Knowing that this information is so readily available to educators, legislators, and law enforcement, begs the question, “What are we doing to our kids, and why?”  Thousands of Nebraska children who would normally never have contact with law enforcement are being thrown into the system for the “crimes” of chronic illness, autism, asthma, mental health issues, poverty, and other reasons outside of their control.  I believe the law that is allowing this to happen has a lot to do with adult agendas and nothing to do with what's best for our children.

Wake up Nebraska lawmakers!  Our excessive absenteeism law must be changed now.  Sure, it will be easier to do it next session, after the author of the law is gone.  But by this time next year, another 3,000-4,000 Nebraska children will have been damaged by this misguided, abusive, and out-of-touch law.  Our children can't afford to wait until it's easier.

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