17 Mar Disrupting the School to Prison Pipeline
By Bob Wing
“Three of my high school friends were killed due to violence,” says Jathan Melendez, a senior at Manual Art High School.
“I feel like the main cause of the violence is people being pushed out of schools, often for really minor things, and then getting into more trouble or more deeply involved with gangs.”
The Alliance for Boys and Men of Color (ABMOC) aims to do something about this.
In the wake of the historic passage of Proposition 47, the 150-organization-strong Alliance is working with the Fix School Discipline Coalition to pass California Senate Bill 527 and Assembly Bill 1041. These bills would direct Proposition 47 savings towards disrupting the school to prison pipeline.
The two coalitions are working with State Sen. Carol Liu (D-Los Angeles) and Assemblymember Tony Thurman (D-Richmond) to maximize the impact of the 25 percent of Proposition 47 savings earmarked for education. (There is a hot dispute over the amount of these savings—see “Gov. Brown” on page 1.)
The bills would require the state to use Proposition 47 savings from reduced prison, court and probation costs to “devise strategies and build on existing local efforts to reduce school push-out and dropout rates, discriminatory punishments and referrals to law enforcement,” according to Eric Philpart, principal coordinator of the Alliance.
The bills are designed for students just like Melendez. Philpart says they will “help schools support the most vulnerable students, including those who are victims of or traumatized by violence, and to promote academic excellence.”
“I campaigned for Proposition 47 because I felt the school system is set up for Black and Brown people to fail,” says Melendez. “The fact that it is gated, the food that they feed us, the schedule we have to follow — everything resembles a prison.”
Restorative justice is one of the important concepts contained in the bills. The traditional approach to discipline simply punishes anyone who breaks rules and rapidly escalates those punishments following subsequent violations.
This approach often leads to excessive suspensions, drop-outs and incarceration. Restorative justice advocates call this the pipeline to prison.
By contrast a restorative justice approach seeks to address the reasons why a person may break rules and tries to repair the harm to others caused by rule-breaking behavior, rather than simply to punish. Second chances are central to this approach, as is mediation between those who may be harmed.
Locally, the Brothers Sons Selves coalition won a campaign that led the Los Angeles Unified School District in 2013 to eliminate suspensions for “willful defiance,” a “catch-all” category for rule-breaking behavior in the classroom.
It eliminated the ability for teachers and administrations to use harsh disciplinary practices on students for minor offenses, such as wearing a hat in the classroom. This largely unfunded policy could greatly benefit from the Proposition 47 savings.
The two bills are currently before the California Senate. The Alliance for Boys and Men of Color and the Fix School Discipline Coalition are building grassroots support across the state to ensure their passage.
More information and updates are available on the ABMOC website, allianceforbmoc.org.