Children and Youth

Workshop details school-to-prison pipeline and how to disrupt it

Solutions come down to creating better relationships.

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Youth-serving agencies discussed solutions to help students academically and socially at the “Dismantling the School-to-Prison Pipeline” workshop on March 20. The workshop was hosted by Youth Alliance and the San Benito County Office of Education, with participation from nonprofits like Go Kids, Inc. and school districts including Hollister School District, San Benito High School District and Gilroy Unified School District.

On the “overwhelming to-do list” to stop the school-to-prison pipeline, presenter Tia Martinez from Forward Change Consulting said all solutions boil down to relationships and the work of building them with community stakeholders including parents, students, health services, teachers, administrators, police and other organizations that offer services to the youth.

A report by Martinez describes several factors that led to California incarcerating 11,532 youths, the highest number in the nation. These include:

  • Unfair, subjective, and zero tolerance discipline practices in which students are regularly suspended, expelled, and in some instances arrested on campus by school resource officers (SROs). Campuses with SROs can saddle students with a legal record whereas campuses without them do not.
  • After being expelled, students lose access to classroom instruction, often resulting in them becoming disengaged from school.
  • In mostly communities of color, students not attending school or left unsupervised in public spaces are often targeted by law enforcement.
  • Expelled or suspended students with exposure to police have an increased probability of arrest; they are three times more likely to come in contact with the juvenile justice system and detention.
  • When placed in juvenile detention, youth will most likely drop out of school.
  • After dropping out of school, youth are 22 percent more likely to end up in prison.

Martinez said school discipline needs to be reformed to decrease suspensions, as it pushes students out of school.

In her presentation, she detailed how having a good relationship with parents and students is about giving positive feedback. She said the ratio of positive to negative feedback should be 5-to-1. Teachers should also take time to build a family-like relationship bond within the classroom and make clear, consistent rules of conduct so students know what is expected of them.

“The things that we have often thought were the solution are actually the medicine that causes illness, makes things worse,” said Amanda Reedy, Gilroy Unified School District program administrator for afterschool programs. She said she came out of the workshop with a list of to-dos and changes she expects to implement in her afterschool programs, like reaching out to parents, getting input from youth leadership groups, and reviewing old policies.

Outside the classroom, Martinez said it was important to involve youth in afterschool programs so they continue to build relationships while being under adult supervision, which can help reduce violent behavior.

To help those who have been incarcerated and cut the transgenerational inheritance cycle, Martinez stressed the need to expand opportunities for youth and young adults in their 20s, so that they can reconnect with school and work and obtain re-entry support with employment, housing and health care.

Lilian Larios, who has an eight-year-old son who has been suspended about 10 times, attended the event because she saw her son “100 percent” in just the title of the workshop. It might be easy to put the blame on the schools, but parents must step back, she said, to understand why children misbehave, and reach out for help and resources.

The workshop “was an eye opener to a lot of people because someone who is in prison has a lot of stigma,” Larios said. “Sometimes it’s easy just to judge and not look at the big picture. The presenter Tia did a great job showing how this pipeline goes [through] generations. A lot of these kids don’t have the resources and they have no choice but to follow the same path that their parents did.”

The workshop also focused on observing and understanding the system’s big picture. Martinez presented data on disadvantaged communities and how upbringings can lead to a cycle of incarceration as adults.

She also cited studies like Stanford’s “Two Strikes: Race and the Disciplining of Young Students,” which demonstrated that students of color and their behavior can be perceived differently compared to white students.

Martinez also shared data on how people of color are more likely to be suspended in school, increasing the likelihood that they will eventually be incarcerated. She added that reasons for suspensions have been expanded, making it easier for teachers and schools to get rid of students who have behavior problems. The young population ask for help by acting out, Martinez said.

Said Reedy: “We don’t need to feel guilty, we don’t need to feel like we are being blamed. It’s not us, it’s the system. And so we don’t have to take responsibility for it being this way, we just need to take responsibility on how to fix it.”

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Workshop will tackle school-to-prison pipeline


Noe Magaña

Noe Magaña is BenitoLink Co-Editor and Content Manager. He joined BenitoLink as reporter intern and was soon brought on staff as a BenitoLink reporter. He also experiments with videography and photography. He is a San Benito High School alumnus with a bachelor's in journalism from San Jose State and a Liberal Arts Associate's Degree from Gavilan College. Noe also attended San Jose City College and was the managing editor for the City College Times, the school's newspaper. He was a reporter and later a copy editor for San Jose State's Spartan Daily. He is a USC Center for Health Journalism 2020 California Fellow.