Editorial: STOP the School-to-Prison Pipeline!

by the CCWP Fire Inside Collective
Since the mid 1990?s, schools across the United States have seen an increase in security guards and surveillance. In 2004 alone, the U.S. government put 60 million dollars toward hiring police and security personnel for public schools, primarily in communities of color and poor communities.
Under the guise of making schools safer the state has created the ?school-to-prison-pipeline.? Zero tolerance discipline, school-based arrests, disciplinary alternative schools, and secured detention further marginalize young people and deny them access to education?in effect preparing them for a lifetime of incarceration.
With the increased criminalization of young people of color and poor young people through gang-related sentencing enhancements and harsher sentencing laws, the educational system has truly become a part of the prison industrial complex. Public schools are shutting down for lack of resources and educational programs within schools are becoming more and more depleted while the only funds being cut from prison budgets are the educational and vocational programs. The communities most dramatically and directly impacted by these intertwining social issues are poor people and people of color.
The ?school to prison pipeline? has already had an extreme impact on America, especially on poor people and people of color, and many of our own members in CCWP. Increasing numbers of youth are sentenced to life without the possibility of parole (LWOP) in the United States. There are currently 2,484 people in the U.S. serving LWOP sentences who were convicted as juveniles. On a national average, youth of color are ten times more likely to be serving these LWOP sentences than white youth. The U.S. is the only country in the world that still sentences youth to LWOP.
In this issue youth caught in this pipeline speak of their experience and hopes. Many are innocent of the crimes they were accused of, others were caught in the wrong place, convicted of an act committed by, for example, an abusive boyfriend.
They write, ?I feel as though I?ve been sentenced to die a slow miserable death. They say prison is a place to be rehabilitated, yet there is no rehabilitation behind these walls. I can?t go to college or get the requirements that the Parole Board asks for. This is not rehabilitation, this is just pure punishment. I need help, not a life-long punishment for a mistake I made as a child.?
?At 17 I was convicted of murder and sentenced to 38 years to life. Yet I too have been a victim, a victim of society. From childhood, society molded me, an average child in poverty. I?m not justifying my wrongdoings, because I know I?ve made many mistakes. But murder was not one of them. None of my mistakes are deserving of my whole life in the penitentiary. That?s why I sit here today still feeling hurt, full of agony, pleading my cause. Not for pity, not for mercy, I?m asking for justice. I?m asking that you give me a chance to become the productive person I wish to be. Don?t send me to rot behind bars for the rest of my life, please.?
A society that discards a high proportion of its youth discards its future. Giving all people a chance to grow is necessary for the continued development of humanity. What future is there otherwise?