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Advocates Try To Stop “School To Prison Pipeline”

By Jeffrey Hess | Published 06 Jul 2011 04:54pm | comments
Walter Bennett

A group of community activists, parents and students are trying to draw attention to what they call the 'school to prison pipeline'. MPB's Jeffrey Hess reports that the activists blame poor schools and a high dropout rate for pushing more Mississippi kids out of school and into prison.

Advocates are in Jacksonthis week to draw attention to what they consider unfair and harsh discipline practices that harm Mississippi kids.

Part of the problem, says Nsombi Lambright with the Mississippi chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, is that schools are increasingly willing to bring police into school discipline issues.

"Discipline by calling the police in when a student has gotten smart with a teacher is not discipline with love. It is also not effective, it is very extreme. So what we are seeing is extreme discipline measure for school related offenses that often need treatment," Lambright said.

Lambright also blames the 17-percent drop out rate and discipline policies that she says disproportionately target poor and minority students.

20-year old Walter Bennett got involved with the juvenile justice system 4 years ago after he was suspended from his high school...he says he has seen his peers' lives damaged by harsh discipline.

"People my age need to be doing productive things. You life is full and ahead of you, full excitement is waiting for you to gab something. Why be pushed out of school and into the jail house? Your life is full of choices, just do what you have to do," Bennett said.

Representative Earle Banks of Jackson is the chair of the house Juvenile Justice Committee.

Banks says to keep kids out of jail, there needs to be a greater focus on basic skills.

"Especially in our school districts that we find are not performing or are failing or are being taken over. Then those school districts need help. And we need to start helping these kids in earlier years so teachers and start teaching these kids how to read," Banks said.

The state of Mississippi only runs one correctional center, Oakley Youth development Center, and it costs about a million dollars a month.

The state also pays a private company about 14-million a year to run Walnut Grove Youth Correctional Facility, the state's biggest youth detention center with around 12-hundred inmates.


Walter Bennett



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