In September, when the Southern Poverty Law Center announced a new national initiative designed to keep at-risk youth out of the “school-to-prison pipeline,” I wrote a short post expressing hope that the program would have enough money and support to get results. Yesterday Booth Gunter and Jamie Kizzire, public affairs liaisons for the SPLC, published a booster piece about the program on Alternet’s top-notch Rights and Liberties section (which, incidentally, is now being edited by Liliana Segura, a friend and colleague and anti-death-penalty activist).
The article is not a progress report so much as a statement of purpose:
“Our juvenile prisons and jails are overflowing with children who simply don’t belong there,” said Southern Poverty Law Center President Richard Cohen. “These are the children who desperately need a helping hand. Instead, we’re traumatizing and brutalizing them — increasing the risk that they’ll end up in adult prisons. It’s tragic for the children and bad for the rest of us, because it tears apart communities, wastes millions in taxpayer dollars and does nothing to reduce crime.”
To attack this problem, the Southern Poverty Law Center has launched a multifaceted new initiative, called the School-to-Prison Reform Project. Based in New Orleans, the project is seeking systemic reforms through legal action, community activism and lobbying to ensure these students get the services — both in school and in the juvenile justice system — that can make the difference between incarceration and graduation.
It’s too soon to chart real gains, of course, but the writers do highlight some early successes (that’s their job, after all!):
The project grew out of the SPLC’s legal work representing children with disabilities in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, and has already won key victories for many school children in Mississippi and Louisiana. Settlements reached with school systems in Louisiana’s Jefferson, East Baton Rouge and Calcasieu parishes, for example, will ensure that quality special education services are provided to thousands of students. The settlements also have provisions that will enhance school experiences for all children, not just those with emotional or learning disabilities.
As for Darius [a 9-year-old boy who was locked up for threatening a teacher with a plastic utensil], the SPLC won his release from juvenile detention and helped him receive mental health treatment near his home and special education services at school. A program to help strengthen family relationships was part of the treatment.
“There are thousands of children like Darius whose lives can be saved if we reform this broken system,” Cohen said. “That’s what this project is all about.”
I’m all for that, and I’ll reiterate my hope that the program continues to deliver. Think positive…