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The Cradle to Prison Pipeline is a national crisis that leaves a Black boy born in 2001 with a one in three chance of going to prison in his lifetime and a Latino boy a one in six risk of the same fate. The pipeline is fueled by racial disparities, pervasive poverty, trauma, inadequate health and mental health care, gaps in early childhood development, disparate educational opportunities, chronic abuse and neglect, and overburdened and ineffective juvenile justice systems.
Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) student Jen Vorse Wilka recently prepared a report for the Children's Defense Fund “Dismantling the Cradle to Prison Pipeline: Analyzing Zero Tolerance School Discipline Policies and Identifying Strategic Opportunities for Intervention” for the Massachusetts coalition to dismantle the pipeline. The report researches data from the 2009 – 2010 school year in Massachusetts and found that there were about 60,000 school expulsions and suspensions. Of those, about 30,000 were “unassigned offenses”—nonviolent, noncriminal offenses which can include minor behavioral issues such as swearing, talking back to a teacher and truancy. Of the approximately 30,000 unassigned offenses, some two-thirds received out of school suspension, resulting in 57,000 lost days of school. Furthermore, since schools are not currently required to report "unassigned offenses" resulting in exclusions of up to 10 days for regular education students, the estimated actual number of disciplinary exclusions is likely at least two to three times the number reported. Download a PowerPoint presentation of the report's key findings and an executive summary of the report.
On Tuesday, January 25th, 2011, over 150 people braved the snow and cold to participate in an action-oriented full coalition meeting! Barbara Best of the Children’s Defense Fund gave an overview of the Cradle to Prison Pipeline and the coalition’s goals, and introduced a moving video on the choices we need to make to invest in our children. Then, coalition members heard about a new Rennie Center report on school discipline policies in Massachusetts and the importance of grounding our action in research and data. Next, leaders of the coalition’s three taskforces gave a report on their progress and current projects. Then, in the most critical part of the meeting, coalition members split up into breakout strategy sessions to develop action steps and identify key community resources and ideas. Now, building on the momentum of the gathering, coalition members are working together to implement those action steps.
We want you to get involved! Click here to see a list of concrete actions you can take and tell us what you will do to dismantle the Cradle to Prison Pipeline.
The Massachusetts Coalition to Dismantle the Cradle to Prison Pipeline believes that it is in the best interest of individuals, families, communities, businesses, and government to protect our children, decrease the risk factors to incarceration, and increase the opportunities available to all our children so they can become successful, healthy contributing adults. We are committed to replacing the pipeline to prison with an expressway towards college and productive work.
The coalition is focusing on zero tolerance school discipline policy as a key feeder system fueling the Cradle to Prison Pipeline crises in Massachusetts, and promoting alternatives that create positive learning environments for all children.
If you would like to share ideas or comments, or want additional information, please email Barbara Best on behalf of the Massachusetts Cradle to Prison Pipeline Planning Committee.
The developed philosophy of “Zero Tolerance” as it relates to school discipline is a system point on the Cradle to Prison Pipeline spectrum that has the potential to feed youth into the criminal justice system, and make them more vulnerable to court involvement.
“Zero Tolerance” policies establish a mandatory or predetermined punishment for certain behaviors without taking into consideration the situational context.They have increased the use of expulsion and suspension disciplinary practices for minor offenses such as tardiness. This policy assumes that the immediate removal of disruptive students will deter others from similar behavior and improve classroom harmony. However, research has shown that “Zero Tolerance” increases expulsion and suspension rates, drop out rates, police presence on school campuses, the number of court referrals, and juvenile crime rates. And most importantly, the policy disproportionately impacts students of color—the very students consistently fed into the criminal justice system.
The Massachusetts Cradle to Prison Pipeline Coalition was launched on April 29, 2010, at a half-day summit at Harvard Law School that brought together more than 300 community and faith leaders, policy makers, educators, law enforcement officials, advocates, families and youth to examine the Cradle to Prison Pipeline and develop action plans to dismantle the pipeline in the Bay State.
The Summit was a collaboration of the Children’s Defense Fund, the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice at Harvard Law School, the Harvard Kennedy School Program in Criminal Justice Policy and Management of the Malcolm Wiener Center for Social Policy, the Rappaport Institute for Greater Boston, the Taubman Center for State and Local Government and Bright Beginnings at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.