Restoring Justice – Chicago’s School to Prison Pipeline


[music] Is that a marker? Were you drawing on the table? (student)
No, no, I was just writing– Officer Benson!
We’ve got one here. (student)
No, wait. You know what,
you’re suspended. (student)
But why? Why? (class in unison)
Zero tolerance! Anybody else? Yes! (student)
Singing in the cafeteria. You’re suspended! Why? (class in unison)
Zero tolerance. -Yes?
-Out of uniform. You’re suspended. (student)
Why? (class in unison)
Zero tolerance. (class in unison)
Zero tolerance. (class in unison)
Zero tolerance. [music] One day my sophomore year
I was running late to class. I decided to go to the attendance office
to get a tardy pass. The dean, she highlighted the days that I was late. Then she proceeded to walk me to the Assistant Principal’s office. He sat me down
and asked me what school I want to go to. I’m like I want to go here. I mean he was like “No.
What other school do you want to go to?” He then took my ID and he stapled it to the paper
and he said “you’re gone”. I felt really bad and confused. In my head I was thinking about my life. Am I not even going to graduate?
Am I gonna get a high school diploma? When we suspend students
or use other punitive consequences we’re often not getting
at whatever the underlying issues are. This makes it much more likely that similar behavior
will keep on happening because the issue just doesn’t get resolved. There was a period in time when people thought the best way to deal with disciplinary problems was essentially to expell or suspend–
get him out of the building. Hopefully somebody out there will help the child get better and that they will then come back to the school better prepared to participate in the classroom. (narrator)
Zero-tolerance school discipline policies
were adopted throughout the nation in response to a spike in juvenile arrest
in the late nineteen eighties. These policies proliferated
in response to high-profile school shootings such as the massacre
at Columbine High School in 1999. So often what happens is the students
who need more school are the students who are sent out of school
on a suspension. And that’s why you see graduation rates in some neighborhoods no higher than 48, 49 percent. (Quinten)
My first time being suspended
I was talking back to a teacher. I told the security what happened,
they didn’t want to listen to my side of the story They just got me out of there
and then I got loud with them because I felt like I wasn’t being heard. Like they didn’t give me a chance to speak. If I’m all only always get in trouble
when they gonna just send me out– I might as well just do them a favor and not come back. (Elaine)
In general when we look at suspension rates
and the climate of the school we find that schools with higher suspension rates
tend to have worse climates lower reports of safety compared to schools that serve similar students
that don’t suspend students as much. Suspending us for walking out of the classroom,
using the bathroom, and chewing gum pushes us out of school and creates the system
called the School Prison Pipeline, which pushes Latino and African-American youth
out of school and onto the streets, where they’re most likely to participate in crime. (Quinten)
My last suspension in 2008,
I ended up getting into more trouble as far as being away from school,
being out on the streets, hanging with friends and stuff like that —
or who I thought were friends. And I ended up getting incarcerated. Like I had people tell me like
“you’re going down the wrong road you’re going down the wrong road,
you’re going down the wrong road.” “You shouldn’t be doing this,
you shouldn’t be doing that.” Okay well, what should I be doing? What can you do to help me
do what I need to be doing? Feels like the school’s used to train us for factories,
now they’re training us for jails. Feels like I swear to god they’re laughing
as I stand here crying. Feels like a trick, feels like a trap. Feels like do we have a right to an education, or not? (group chanting)
Education is a right, that is why we have to fight! When you have schools losing young people
to the prison system which costs way more to incarcerate them daily
than it does to educate them, you do really need to see how
it is all effecting everything. Why don’t we put the millions of resources
we throw in this jailhouse why don’t we put that back in the community? In 2010, Voice did research and found out that CPS was spending 51.4 million dollars
on school-based security guards and cameras but only 3.5 million on college and career coaches. That’s saying that they think that we are like
troubled kids that need constant security guards and constant watch. (John)
It’s a terrible message to give to kids. And you know what?
It’s given to under-resourced African American and Latino kids. They don’t ‘wand’ in Winnetka. (narrator)
These high suspension rates
disproportionately affect youth of color. (David)
One of the problems emanates from students being looked at
as not just the perpetrators, but the problem. As opposed to people who can be engaged
to further improve their communities despite the issues and challenges that may exist. (Quabeeny)
I think that they need to change the culture
so that we all feel comfortable coming to school. Cause when I come into school through
the metal detectors, I feel like I’m at the airport and I shouldn’t feel like I need to take off
all my belongings or whatever to go get my education. (narrator)
North Lawndale College Prep is one Chicago high school that has rejected metal detectors. At North Lawndale we practice restorative justice. Instead of us being so quick to suspend the kids, we give them a chance to come
to peer jurors such as myself and restore whatever harm that was done. We actually give them the chance to look back
and see what they done wrong and how could they fix that in the future. And also get them a chance to set a goal for themselves so that whatever mistake they made, it won’t happen again. (John)
Because giving detentions
really does not change behavior. So I’m more interested
in having our faculty and staff figure out with the student,
using other students, how to get a deeper insight into why it is that message and that learning
isn’t being picked up. And that’s a matter of dialogue.
That’s a matter of a peer jury. That’s a matter of restorative justice. So it actually helps like build more leaders in the school instead of building followers. (Elaine)
It’s very hard to change the culture in schools and the practices in schools. So many schools are adopting preventative practices and restorative justice practices. But there’s still schools — whether or not
they’re doing preventative practices — that have very high suspension rates. There are schools where half of students
get a suspension in a year. We know that suspensions
result in lost instructional time, adversely impact attendance, adversely impact academic achievement,
and weaken a child’s connection to the school. We looked at our suspension rates
and our expulsion rates over the past school year,
and really saw troubling information. We were suspending way too many students, and we were disproportionately suspending
African-American students. And when we looked around the country and said,
“Well how other districts handling this?” we really did feel that we were too punitive
in our approach to discipline, and we felt like we needed to change our policy
to address that. (narrator)
In the summer of 2014, CPS officially adopted a comprehensive discipline policy centered around restorative justice practices. So now you can explain the story to us
using just “I” statements. You can’t blame anybody else.
Just say “I”, “I”, “I”– (Quabeeny)
We constantly met with CPS
to change the Student Code of Conduct and change minor infractions so they can handle
the situation restoratively and not apprehensively. (narrator)
While the new policy is a welcome improvement, concerns remain that not enough funds
are being allocated to social workers, counselors, and training for teachers and principals
that are necessary for a successful implementation. I think if you can organize 10 security guards
at the front door x-raying and wanding people you can organize peace. You can teach peace. But you have to believe in it. In my school, they implemented peer jury and they focus more on handling situations
through the peer jury. And that happened because community —
my community — stood together. And we fought for more
restorative practices in our school. And that gives other communities hope that if they stand together focused and ready for change that they too can see more mature practices
also in their schools. I think we have good momentum,
and I think this is the impetus that folks need to see, in terms of understanding the value capacity of people, to change their conditions. (singing)
♪ Mama, mama can’t you see! ♪ ♪ What the lord has done to me. ♪ ♪ Ain’t no use in looking down. ♪ ♪ Ain’t no justice on the ground. ♪ ♪ Mama, mama can’t you see! ♪ ♪ What the city’s done to me. ♪ ♪ Ain’t no use in looking down. ♪ ♪ Ain’t no freedom on the ground. ♪ ♪ Mama, mama can’t you see! ♪ ♪ What the lord has done to me. ♪ ♪ Ain’t no use in looking down. ♪ ♪ Ain’t no justice on the ground. ♪

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