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"Symposium: The 'School to Prison Pipeline'"

July/August 2005 issue of Poverty & Race

The growing awareness of disproportionate rates of incarceration among young African-American men—and the severe consequences of even short-term incarceration for education, employment, housing and access to opportunity—have prompted a new search for answers and solutions among civil rights and anti-poverty organizations. This inquiry began (and continues today) with a range of research and advocacy to address the racial bias inherent in the criminal justice system—in the interaction of racial profiling, jury bias, inadequate and unequal indigent defense systems, and racially skewed sentencing laws. More recently, the focus has turned to the causes of racialized outcomes operating within juvenile justice systems.

In this issue of
Poverty & Race, we profile a new generation of research and advocacy that looks at how schools and other government-based systems operate to increase the likelihood that children of color will eventually become involved with the juvenile justice system, often with lifelong harmful consequences. We have asked experts from four organizations that are doing complementary work in this area to share their insights and approaches: Daniel Losen from the Harvard Civil Rights Project discusses the important scholarly work the Project has sponsored, particularly on the issue of disproportionate drop-out rates, and its implication for advocates; Michael Wenger of the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies profiles the work of the Dellums Commission, which, like the Children’s Defense Fund, is looking for answers not just in schools, but in all of the systems that affect children and their families; Judith Browne and Monique Dixon from the Advancement Project describe their work in aggressively confronting the role played by school discipline policies in contributing to disparate rates of minority incarceration; and Morna Murray from the Children’s Defense Fund summarizes the key conclusions of CDF’s new “Cradle to Prison Pipeline” project.

We expect that many of these mechanisms will turn out to have a geographic component: There are few systems more effective than residential segregation in permitting structural inequality of this kind to thrive— but at the same time, we know that many of the racially disparate outcomes will be not be easily explained by place. The structural roots of inequality can follow lower-income children even into high-opportunity settings, and these reports suggest that we must continue to be vigilant in our efforts to keep the next generation of at-risk children out of jail, and out of our juvenile justice systems.


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