Senate Judiciary Hearing on the School to Prison Pipeline

Yesterday, the Subcommittee on Human Rights and the Law of the Senate Judiciary held a hearing on the School to Prison Pipeline.  Subcommittee Chairman Dick Durbin (D-IL) called the hearing to explore the occurrence of excessive and ineffective discipline driving students into failure. Before taking feedback from three panels including House members, Administration officials, and topical experts, Durbin called for creative reforms to make schools safer and reduce incarceration rates. Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) thanked Durbin for bringing attention to the matter in light of our country having the highest incarceration rate in the world. Leahy then stated his intention to reintroduce the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act reauthorization encompassing prevention programs next Congress.

Representatives Bobby Scott (D-VA) and Danny Davis (D-IL) comprised the first panel. Scott talked about how overly harsh and fixed discipline policies actually reinforces bad behavior and sets up a progression to higher punitive measures. He called for comprehensive, evidence-based programs like teen pregnancy prevention, home visiting, early education, and school wide positive behavior supports to tackle the problem. Davis followed by highlighting his role on the Congressional Black Caucus and their longtime concern of this issue that disproportionately affects African-American young men. He pointed to the essential importance of education in our modern society and thus the need to keep students learning.

Deborah Delisle, Assistant Secretary for Elementary and Secondary Education with the US Department of Education (Ed) and Melodee Hanes, Acting Administrator of the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) followed in the second panel. Delisle spoke about how Ed is addressing the problem starting with identifying it. She described a recent study finding an over reliance on suspensions and expulsions, disproportionate impact on students of color and with disabilities, and an increased risk of juvenile justice involvement for students who are suspended or expelled. For solutions in progress, she pointed to Race to the Top competitive school funding and technical assistance on multi-tiered behavioral frameworks and social and emotional well-being supports. Hanes followed describing the OJJDP response to find consensus on best practices, identify needed areas for further research, enhanced systems collaboration on research and data, and public education.

The third panel consisted of topical experts who further described the problem and promising approaches. Panelists included Ohio Attorney General Michael DeWine, Georgia Juvenile Court Chief Judge Steven Teske, Advancement Project Co-Director Judith Browne Dianis, Cato Institute Director of the Center for Educational Reform Andrew Coulson, and Edward Ward bringing the young adult perspective. The subcommittee website contains a recording (seek the player to 14:30) of the informative event, including the panelists testimonies and knowledgeable answers to the subcommittee’s thoughtful questions.

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