Skip to main content

America must stop criminalizing its children

As managing attorney in the SPLC’s Mississippi office, Jody Owens has seen firsthand the devastation wrought by the “school-to-prison pipeline” that funnels vulnerable children into the harsh world of police, courts and prison cells. He explains this civil rights crisis and the path to reform.

As managing attorney in the SPLC’s Mississippi office, Jody Owens has seen firsthand the devastation wrought by the “school-to-prison pipeline” that funnels vulnerable children into the harsh world of police, courts and prison cells.

In the following article, published today by Politico, Owens explains how schools have confused typical adolescent misbehavior with criminal activity – and what we must to do stop a civil rights crisis that is filling our prisons and robbing children of opportunity. Here's an excerpt:

Police officers in Meridian, Mississippi, were spending so much time hauling handcuffed students from school to the local juvenile jail that they began describing themselves as “just a taxi service.”

It wasn’t because schools in this east Mississippi town were overrun by budding criminals or juvenile superpredators—not by a long shot. Most of the children were arrested and jailed simply for violating school rules, often for trivial offenses.

One 15-year-old girl, for example, was suspended and sent to the Lauderdale County Juvenile Detention Center for a dress code violation. Her jacket was the wrong shade of blue. A boy served a suspension in the juvenile lock-up for passing gas in the classroom. Another landed behind bars because he walked to the alternative school instead of taking the bus.

For many kids, a stint in “juvie” was just the beginning of a never-ending nightmare. Arrests could lead to probation. Subsequent suspensions were then considered probation violations, leading back to jail. And suspensions were a distinct possibility in a district where the NAACP found a suspension rate that was more than 10 times the national average.

Read the full article here