In The News

Teen Vogue Gathers Stories of Youth Incarceration

In October of 2017, Teen Vogue offered a series of stories on America’s incarceration of kids. Here are a few highlights.

How the School-to-Prison Pipeline Works

Researchers have found that excessive suspensions and expulsions lead to various negative outcomes for students, including dropping out of school – and studies have shown that high school dropouts are more likely to be incarcerated than those who graduate high school, writes Mariame Kaba:

Cops in schools (sometimes called “school resource officers”) play a critical role in this pipeline. Since the 1950s, some U.S. schools have had on-site police, and as late as 1975, only one percent of U.S. schools reported having police officers. But by the late 1990s, most urban schools had cops. In fact, New York City public schools currently boast a force of 5,200 school resource officers (including 200 uniformed police officers) — meaning schools in NYC employ more cops than counselors. Many schools also have metal detectors and surveillance cameras under the pretext of keeping students safe.

The presence of police officers in schools often leads to harsher, sometimes brutal treatment of the students within. According to a 2011 report from the Justice Policy Institute, “when schools have law enforcement on site, students are more likely to be arrested by police instead of discipline being handled by school officials. This leads to more kids being funneled into the juvenile justice system, which is both expensive and associated with a host of negative impacts on youth.”

Disabled Youth Are More at Risk of Being Incarcerated

The school-to-prison pipeline is also an issue for disabled children, writes Rachel Anspach:

About 85% of incarcerated youth have a disability, but just 37% of them received special education services in school. At the same time, special education programs often function as a new form of school segregation that place disabled children on a track toward unequal outcomes, according to the National Council on Disability.

The situation is further complicated by disability’s intersections with other identities, which make certain kids more vulnerable than others. Black children are more likely to go through school with untreated disabilities and to be diagnosed with behavioral disabilities that funnel them into what could be called a special-education-to-prison pipeline. Children in poverty are impacted harshly by having a disability, because it’s more difficult for them to access resources outside of those offered by their public school. Native kids with disabilities are twice as likely as their white counterparts to receive out-of-school suspension, and three times as likely to be physically restrained in school.

A report released in August by the Ruderman Family Foundation shows that children with “non-apparent disabilities” — meaning those not immediately visible, such as learning disabilities, autism, Crohn’s disease, or mental illness — are routinely criminalized rather than given the educational accommodations to which they are legally entitled.

Why Young Girls Die Behind Bars

Girls are increasingly being arrested under domestic violence laws for conflicts with parents and caregivers setting a course for events that may lead to their deaths. Andrea Ritchie looks at one such case:

On January 10, 2016, 16 year-old Gynnya McMillen, was living in a group home in Hardin County, Kentucky, following the death of her father in 2014. She was moving toward being reunited with her mother, with whom she had what has been described as a “strained” relationship. She was on a home visit when her mother called 911, claiming that Gynnya had hit her. Gynnya denied it. When the police responded, they arrested Gynnya. Instead of taking her back to the group home where she was living, they took her to a juvenile detention facility. There, she was assaulted by officers who used a martial arts restraint to force her to remove her hoodie. The staff then neglected to check on her every 15 minutes as required by the rules, instead falsifying over 60 reports. Gynnya was found dead the next morning.

Like Sandra Bland, 16 year-old Gynnya McMillen died in a cell. In both cases, the cause of death is contested by their families. And, in both cases, the police interactions and court decisions that put Sandra and Gynnya in the cells they died in are the real culprits.