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school to prison pipeline

jail cells
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If you follow State of Opportunity regularly, you may have seen or heard us talk about the school-to-prison pipeline. It’s a nationwide pattern of students being pushed out of schools and into the criminal justice system.

Michael Coghlan / Flickr Creative Commons / HTTP://J.MP/1SPGCL0

Last week, President Obama commuted the prison sentences of 61 people serving time under "outdated and unduly harsh sentencing laws" for drug offenses.

The president has commuted 248 sentences so far, including 92 life sentences.

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If you're 17 and you commit a crime in Michigan, you are automatically sentenced as an adult. You can't even vote yet, and you're sentenced as an adult. There are only nine states that try 17-year olds as adults, and Michigan is one of them. According to The Marshall Project, there seems to be some momentum to "raise the age" of an adult from 17 to 18 in North Carolina, New York and Wisconsin.

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Governor Snyder recently signed into a law a set of rules about absences from school. These laws don’t affect every kid and family. But families living in poverty who get cash assistance from the state can lose those benefits if their children are truant. The issue is that this new law, like the state Department of Health and Human Services policy it is based on, doesn't define truancy.

Renato Genoza
flickr

Michigan is on yet another list of dubious distinction. This time, the state has some of the highest rates of school suspensions in the country.  

A recently released report by UCLA's Center for Civil Rights Remedies looks at state and even district-level data to see where kids are most likely to get suspended. It also takes a look at which kids are suspended most often. Michigan doesn't suspend the most kids overall (that's Florida's achievement), but the state does have the fourth-largest gap in the nation between the number of black kids suspended and the number of white kids disciplined in the same way. 

Michigan districts also have among the highest rates of suspension in the entire country.

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Pay now or pay later? I feel like that could be the unofficial tag line for our State of Opportunity project.  

The "pay now or pay later" question comes up time and again when we talk about programs aimed at helping kids climb out of poverty. For example: Do we spend the money up front for high-quality preschool for low-income kids, or do we wait until they're falling behind to try and step in to help? Do we offer preventive medical care for low-income kids, or do we wait to treat them until they've developed asthma or heart disease later in life?  

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Infowire fills the information gap and meets the news needs of families struggling to make ends meet.Get all Infowire alerts by texting INFOWIRE to 734-954-4539 or email infowire@michiganradio.org

The goal of Infowire is to deliver information that’s hard to come by to the people who could use it most. In this case, it's families of prisoners.

There’s a long list of serious issues in prison that people would not stand for if they were happening somewhere else. In this context, visits might not seem like the most important thing, but they are crucial.

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In 2012, the US Supreme Court ruled that mandatory life sentences for juveniles are unconstitutional.  That doesn't mean it's impossible for a young offender to get a life sentence, it's just not automatic.

Zak Rosen / Michigan Radio

The school-to-prison pipeline is a nationwide pattern of students being pushed out of schools and into the criminal justice system.

Groups like the ACLU argue young people, especially African Americans, are suspended and expelled from school at disproportionate rates, and research suggests that once they’re expelled, those students are more likely to end up in prison.

Now, a group of people most affected by the school-to-prison pipeline are working to end it.  


Juvenile justice; two steps forward, two steps back

May 31, 2013

It's hard to decide how to process the recent spate of kids-going-to-jail-for-doing-things-kids-do stories.

Over the past week or so, outrage has swelled over the story of one 18-year-old being prosecuted for having sexual relations with a 14-year-old who went to her high school (they're both girls, so there's concern that what's being prosecuted is sexual orientation).

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