I am case worker in Prince George’s County, Maryland where I have been working with the school district’s majority African American student population for the past five years. I am a school-to-prison pipeline insider.
In Prince George's County, as with many school districts, probation officers and police are stationed in the schools every day, and their presence has an effect on how the young people are treated. Every day I see how youth are harshly punished for minor offenses. Incidents that would have been handled by a peer mediator when I was a student are now being handled by police officers. I’ve seen students referred to the school security officer for taking a classmate’s cellphone, others escorted out of the school in handcuffs for a lunchroom scuffle, and far too many young people being charged and put through the courts for minor misbehaviors and arguments.
It strikes me that I haven’t seen schools use peer mentoring programs or other meaningful alternatives to punishment since I started this job. They do have a counselor for each grade, but there aren’t enough of them to meet the needs of thousands of students. As for in-school suspension programs, students often find themselves sitting there, doing independent work all day without instruction or interaction with teachers.
For the twenty or so students on my caseload, the situation is worse. These are students who have behavioral problems and who have been referred to juvenile justice and been through the courts already. Once these students return to the classroom, the teachers and police keep an extra close eye on them. If these students get in any further arguments or make little mistakes—no matter what their current circumstance is, how good their grades are, or how hard they might have worked to change—they are quickly kicked back out. The school doesn’t want you back once you’ve been marked. In fact, everything you do is viewed as a reason to push you out.
For this school-to-prison pipeline insider, the message I see given to the students, the majority of whom are students of color, is clear: we don’t tolerate mistakes and we will push you out. And for those students who get called go into the security office or led out of the school in handcuffs -- maybe they will come back, maybe they won’t.
This is a guest blog post by a case worker currently working in Prince George's County, Maryland, who wishes to remain anonymous.