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Juvenile Justice Advocates Calling for a New Approach to Discipline

By Daniel Cherry | Published 22 Sep 2011 07:08pm | comments
Advocates discuss problems and solutions in a panel discussion

Child care and juvenile justice advocates are calling for a new and balanced approach to disciplining Mississippi's students. MPB's Daniel Cherry reports how they want to put an end to what they call the cradle to prison pipeline.

About 17 percent of Mississippi's high school students dropped out last year. Those dropouts have much higher chances of being incarcerated throughout their lives. Nsombi Lambright is the Executive Director of the Mississippi ACLU. She says zero tolerance punishment policies are largely to blame.

"Things like walking out of the classroom, or walking on the wrong side of the hallway, or sharpening their pencil without permission, or going to the bathroom without permission, that just weighs down on a child. They get the feeling like they just can't do anything right, and that leads to further disruption."

Lambright says that leads to children lowering expectations for themselves. Portia Ballard Espy is with the Children's Defense Fund's Southern Regional Office. She says many students are sent to alternative schools at the first sign of trouble.

"We think that's criminalizing our children. It's preparing them to go into the juvenile justice system. We don't want them to feel like, 'This is normal', 'This is how I'm supposed to be treated.'"

Some point to boot camps as a example of what they want to change. Warren Yoder is the Executive Director of the Public Policy Center of Mississippi. He says the state is implementing a system in which state medicaid works with the juvenile justice system to address behavioral problems.

"Most of the kids that are involved with the juvenile justice issues have mental health problems, behavioral health problems that have to be addressed. You can address the behavior, but until you actually go in and deal with the root problems, you're not going to see much in the way of change."

Advocates say a more balanced approach would help to distinguish between what's just part of growing up and truly dangerous behavior.




Advocates discuss problems and solutions in a panel discussion



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