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Grooming kids for jail, not college

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  • "We should be preparing our kids for Yale, not jail." Paul López, community activist
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  • Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) files suit after first-grader handcuffed
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Cindy Rodríguez, Denver Post | CO

Submitted by Evergreene Digest Contributing Editor Ken Mitchell

When I think about the debate over the lack of minority students attending CU-Boulder, or most colleges for that matter, that quip from labor organizer Paul López pops into my head.    

He made that remark after the nonprofit educational justice organization Padres Unidos last year unveiled the results of a study that documented the rising number of students getting ticketed by police in Denver Public Schools because of zero-tolerance policies.    

The report, "Education on Lockdown: The Schoolhouse to Jailhouse Track," documented a 71 percent increase in the number of tickets given to students in DPS, from 2000 to 2004, at a time when Denver police saw a 25 percent decrease in juvenile crime.    

Getting a ticket means a student has to miss school to go to juvenile court, yet the report revealed that 68 percent of the tickets issued were for minor offenses that should have been handled by school administrators and parents, not outsourced to cops.    

Ticketing kids for violating the school dress code, uttering a profane word or returning to school to retrieve something (trespassing, to police) is an extension of the same policy that politicians have adopted nationwide to lock up hundreds of thousands of people busted for carrying small amounts of drugs.    

It explains why today one in five inmates in Colorado is serving time for a nonviolent, drug-related offense, compared with about one in 10 in 1991, according to Colorado Department of Corrections statistics.    

That increase helps explain the disproportionate number of blacks and Latinos in prison. Poor kids in urban areas, those who happen to be mostly black and brown, are more likely to get ensnared in petty drug trafficking and get sucked into a criminal justice system for years because of mandatory sentencing guidelines.    

What does jail have to do with Yale?    

Well, if the dropout rate for Latino students in Colorado is 25 percent, and it's 17 percent for black kids, compared with 11 percent for white kids (according to a study of the class of 2003 by the Colorado Children's Campaign) it's a good bet that a disproportionate number of Latino and black kids aren't in the pipeline to college. That may result in their heading into another pipeline: the criminal justice system.    

The vast majority - 77 percent - of inmates in state and federal prisons across the nation do not have a high school diploma, according to a 2003 report by the U.S. Department of Justice.    

Dropping out doesn't mean that youths are headed for prison, but it's what sociologists call a strong indicator.    

"There's been a convergence of the educational system and the criminal justice system," said Jim Freeman, a staff attorney for The Advancement Project, the nonprofit organization based in Washington, D.C. that helped Padres Unidos with the Schoolhouse to Jailhouse report. Crowded urban public schools, a high turnover rate among teachers who are underpaid and overworked, and low teacher-to-student ratios in those schools make it difficult for students to excel, Freeman said.    

Statistics relating to the dropout rate, the college rate and the prison rate are all connected. They explain why urban kids who make it out and graduate from college talk about not becoming a statistic.    

We need to change these statistics - even if only because it makes more sense to spend $8,000 a year on a kid for 12 years of schooling, compared with $35,000 a year for who-knows-how-long on people in prison.    

Fewer dropouts will mean more kids, of all colors, will head to college - where they belong.    

Related:

Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) files suit after first-grader handcuffed, Richard Cohen, Southern Poverty Law Center
All across the nation, schools have adopted draconian "zero-tolerance" policies that treat children like criminals and turn schools into prison-like environments.

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