“CBCF Perspectives” OPINION: Our Children Do Not Deserve to be the Fodder of the Criminal Justice System

Written by Rashod Woods

When we talk about our children, we should be invigorated and hopeful knowing that they are in good care under institutions such as the Education and Criminal Justice systems than burdened with terror, fear, despair and hopelessness.  It must be made clear that the Cradle-To-Career pipeline cannot be created when our children earn our care rather it is required from the moment they are created. Our children were born deserving our love. It is disgraceful to note that the United States is the world’s leader in incarceration with 2.2 million people currently in the nation’s prisons or jails. This epidemic sends a message that says “youth have to earn our respect and love”.

Such trends have resulted in prison overcrowding and state governments being overwhelmed by the burden of funding a rapidly expanding penal system, despite increasing evidence that large-scale incarceration is not the most effective means of achieving public safety. It is a disservice to our society when educators, politicians, lawmakers, and citizens avoid tirelessly working to prevent than to cure the sustaining of the School-To-Prison Pipeline. A wise woman once said, “An ounce of prevention is worth more than a pound of cure.”

An incarceration rate is good litmus to judge where politicians actually stand on racial inequality in the Criminal Justice System. Juvenile Justice Reform, particularly, is an area that gets overlooked as it simultaneously fuels the School-To-Prison Pipeline, which is the key component to making America the world’s leader in incarceration. The School-To-Prison Pipeline is a disturbing national trend wherein children are funneled out of public schools and into the juvenile and criminal justice systems. Many of these children have learning disabilities or histories of poverty, abuse or neglect, and would benefit from additional educational and counseling services. Instead, they are isolated, punished and pushed out.

Nearly 40 years of research have almost universally found Black students, Black males in particular, to be overrepresented in the use of exclusionary discipline, out-of-school suspension, and expulsion. The crux of the matter is whether Black students engage in more serious disruptive behavior than their White peers that could justify that such harsh punishment is due to different rates of behavior. Irrespective of the ladder, studies have provided little to no evidence that suggest African Americans in the same school or district as White students are engaging in more serious disruptive behavior that could warrant higher rates of exclusion or punishment.

Furthermore, a good look needs to be turned to the educators that do not reflect the students at which they teach. Most minority students matriculate through K-12 not seeing a teacher that looks like them and that is a problem. It means something to a have teachers that looks like you in the classroom. It has been reported that minority students from around the country say they want to feel safe and supported in school. These students are ready to learn and ready to be in there. The more appropriate question is whether staff, faculty, and administration are caring about their presence.  It means something, when a Pre-K student (a grade level at which is generally not regulated) suffers from soft suspensions and sees their classmates being sent home. Parents are being told to “keep their children home until they get their act together.” This should not to be the way we communicate with families about their children.

Yet today, we are continually criminalizing non-violent student behaviors. Going forward, if we want to improve educational outcomes for minorities and help ensure that all students receive an education that properly prepares them for success and productive careers; a start is by closing down juvenile facilities that snatch the promised futures from our youth and invest in preventive measures

Rashod Woods is a native of Miami, FL and a senior student leader at Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University pursuing a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice and a professional certification in education. Rashod is currently serving in the office of Rep. Corrine Brown (FL-05).

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