Monday, 22 October 2012

Alliance aims to alter 'school-to-prison' path

Advocacy groups from across Alabama have joined to create a program to stop what the program?s coordinator calls the ?school-to-prison pipeline.?

Many students wind up incarcerated for behavior that could be dealt with in other ways, said Ebony Howard, a staff attorney with Southern Poverty Law Center and organizer of the Alabama Youth Justice Alliance.

The SPLC is one of 15 members of the alliance, the creation of which was announced Tuesday morning on the steps of the state Capitol.

Arresting a student for minor disciplinary issues can steer that juvenile onto a dangerous path, Howard said.

?When you arrest a kid, you train that kid to be arrested again,? she said.

Once a juvenile has been sent to a youth facility, they become more likely to eventually end up in jail with adults, where they are in danger of physical and sexual assault, Howard said.

Taking a more reasoned approach to behavioral issues in young people can keep that cycle from beginning, she said.

?Kids should be held accountable, but the way they are held accountable should not result in ruining their lives,? Howard said.

The alliance?s stated goal is for partners to work together and with the Legislature, government systems, youth, families and communities to develop appropriate reforms.

Children who are at low risk should not be sent to youth detention facilities, said Linda Tilly, executive director of Voices for Alabama?s Children.

?They are basically going to crime school,? when they are sent to those facilities, Tilly said.

Anger management and family counseling are two alternatives to incarceration, Tilly said, adding that the underlying causes of behavioral issues often are not addressed.

Issues such as undiagnosed mental conditions or abuse in the student?s home are among the potential causes of behavioral problems, she said.

Howard said one of the goals of the alliance is to hear from young people about the struggles they face in and out of school and decide what approach the alliance should take.

Anneshia Johnson with Birmingham Faith of Action said it is important to get youth involved.

?If the youth will lead, adults will follow,? Johnson said. ?But in order for the youth to lead, we have to truly pour into them ... and show them that we do hear them.?

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