Opinion

New York City Schools’ discriminatory and damaging school-to-prison pipeline

By Kesi Foster and Kate Terenzi |  

April 17, 2017 |  

(Rob Bennett/Mayoral Photography Office)

New York City schools feed young black and Latino youth into a school-to-prison pipeline by leveling criminal punishments on students for small infractions and normal youthful behavior.

Ending the school-to-prison pipeline, which disproportionately impacts black and brown students, would increase protection for students of color, including young immigrants who are particularly vulnerable under a Trump administration.

Ninety-two percent of all students who were arrested are black and Latino and 91.7 percent of all students who received a criminal summons in schools are black or Latino, according to a new report from Center for Popular Democracy and Urban Youth Collaborative. Police are 8.3 times more likely to intervene if a student is black than if a student is white, and 4.4 times more likely to intervene if the student is Latino. Seventy percent of all criminal punishments are for non-criminal violations and misdemeanors. We should not be pulling students out of schools and into courtrooms for disorderly conduct.

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The report, The $746 Million a Year School-to-Prison Pipeline, estimated that ending the school-to-prison pipeline would save the city hundreds of millions, offsetting funding cuts expected from the Trump administration while investing in programs that truly support our students.

Every year, New York City’s school-to-prison pipeline costs $746 million. This figure includes salaries for police in schools, staffing for suspension hearings, incarceration and criminal court expenses, metal detectors, and surveillance cameras – and tens of millions in lost tax revenue from students who drop out of school after being arrested or suspended.

These costs are heavy on policing and low on support staff. Today, for example, New York employs more than 5,500 New York Police Department school safety division personnel compared to only 2,800 full-time guidance counselors and 1,250 full-time social workers.

New York employs more than 5,500 New York Police Department school safety division personnel compared to only 2,800 full-time guidance counselors and 1,250 full-time social workers.

And there is no evidence to show that this policing makes for safer learning environments. Policing does not reduce incidents of bullying or fighting. In fact, studies have shown that a police presence makes students feel less safe than if there were no police at the school. Moreover, out of all the summonses the NYPD gives out each year citywide, only 20 percent result in a finding of guilt.

New York City’s current exclusionary discipline policies negatively impact students like Ari, who was struggling with being transferred into foster care, when she received a 60-day suspension for her involvement in a physical altercation. They hurt young people like Markeys - an LGBTQ individual with a disability - who was hauled off by police to the emergency room for a mental health emergency.

The problem has taken on even more urgency with the election of Donald Trump, who has swiftly moved to increase deportation among immigrant communities and called for oppressive policing in black communities.

The new administration's expanded definition of "criminal" for immigration purposes includes any offense, no matter how small. In addition, when a student is arrested, as more than 1,000 students were last year, these arrests are fed into a federal database, making it easier for immigration authorities to identify undocumented students – and later target them for deportation.

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Rather than continue failed policies that hurt students like Ari and Markeys – and today, put immigrant children in real jeopardy – Mayor Bill de Blasio and the City Council should commit to divesting from over-policing and investing in the health, growth, and well-being of our students.

Fortunately, young people around the city, organized through the Urban Youth Collaborative with members from Make the Road New York, Sistas and Brothas United, and Future of Tomorrow, have already been working on a blueprint to achieve that goal.

Their “Young People’s School Justice Agenda” includes an end to arrests and summonses for non-criminal violations and misdemeanors, limits for long-term suspensions, ending suspensions for minor infractions, investments in guidance counselors, social workers, and other supportive services, as well as opportunities for students to thrive through a universal jobs program and expanded access to college.

Martin Luther King Jr. said a budget is more than a financial document – it is a moral document. The city is making a moral choice when it pours money into policing and jailing young people rather than supporting them and helping them thrive.

Kesi Foster is the Urban Youth Collaborative coordinator. Kate Terenzi is the Center for Popular Democracy’s Equal Justice Works Fellow, sponsored by Proskauer Rose LLP.

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