There is no doubt that the school-to-prison pipeline is a very real problem with severe consequences on our youth. In response, juvenile justice agencies have put together programs to help. On December 12, 2012, Melodee Hanes, Acting Administrator, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP), Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs addressed the United States Senate hoping to send a clear message from the juvenile justice system-We need to dedicate ourselves to protecting and seeking justice for the our most vulnerable population—our nation’s children. She reiterated Attorney General Holder’s priority of “protecting children and ensuring they are put on a path to success”. She reminded the Senate members, “Studies show that children removed from school as a result of exclusionary disciplinary actions—that is, suspension, expulsion, or arrest—are more likely to repeat a grade, drop out, or become involved in the juvenile justice system. Yet, these studies document that removal is an all-too-common phenomenon.” She went on to outline several programs in place that are improving the well-being of children, youth and families, as well as, promoting public safety. Here is a brief overview of the programs:
Supportive School Discipline Initiative
Launched in 2011, this initiative was jointly announced by Attorney General Holder and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. The Initiative made use of the data presented in the Breaking Schools’ Rules study which showed very few disciplinary actions that resulted in removal from class were for conduct the state law mandated suspension or expulsion. School officials were making decisions based on their discretion and this discretion had major consequences. This initiative encouraged collaboration and action with federal, state and local education and justice professionals, as well as, provided guidance and resources (including monetary) to establish research, evaluation and implementation of best school-based practices while at the same time upholding this nation’s children’s civil rights in the academic setting.
Defending Childhood Initiative
Begun in 2010, the Defending Childhood Initiative was designed “to take an in-depth look at the problem of children exposed to violence.” The research found 60% of American children had been exposed to crime, abuse and violence within the last year. Much of this occurred within their own home. This exposure, as either a victim or a witness, often leaves a child traumatized. Hanes furthers, “A lack of effective and appropriate identification, response and intervention can result in children who are unfocused and disruptive and frequently truant, behavior which often plays out in classrooms nationwide.” Another key element in this initiative is the look at the role youth substance abuse plays in behavior problems. The initiative not only provided pivotal research but again partnered education and juvenile justice professionals in an effort to keep kids in school, safe from further victimization and encouraged considerations of mental and behavioral support children touched by trauma need to be successful.
Federal Interagency Reentry Council (Reentry Council)
OJJDP recognized that we must not only stop the school-to-prison pipeline, but also mitigate some of the harm it has already created in the lives of thousands of youth. The Reentry Council, made up of 20 federal agencies, was established to coordinate reentry services for youth involved in the juvenile justice system who are returning to their community and school. According to a citation by Hanes, “approximately 100,000 youth are released each year from some type of detention facility to school systems that lack a comprehensive mechanism to assess and address the learning needs of youth reentering the system.” This council focuses only on juvenile reentry issues due to the unique opportunities and challenges that exist.