SHANNON WILLIAMS
President and General Manager
Indianapolis Recorder

The criminal justice system, education and advocacy for underserved and oppressed populations are things I am very passionate about, thus I probably write on these subjects far more than others.

In doing so, I sometimes feel that I may “lose” the reader because of my ongoing passion to discuss these topics through this column.

So, I’m trying a different approach this time by cutting to the chase a bit sooner. Here we go:

Facts:

– While the United States only represents 5 percent of the world’s population, this country has 25 percent of the world’s prisoners.

– Individuals in the “school-to-prison” pipeline are disproportionately people of color (Black and Hispanic), poor and with learning disabilities. The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights says Blacks are suspended and expelled at three times the rate of their white counterparts. Black preschool students represent 48 percent of children suspended more than once.

– Investigations by the Southern Poverty Law Center’s (SPLC) Mississippi office uncovered an abundance of cases that led to students in Meridian, Mississippi, being pepper sprayed while in school, as well as incarcerated for nonviolent, minor school infractions such as violating uniform policies by wearing the wrong shade of blue, passing gas in the classroom and walking to an assigned alternative school rather than taking the bus. SPLC’s investigation eventually led to a Department of Justice lawsuit.

– In Birmingham, Alabama, SPLC found that “chemical weapons were used on about 300 students in Birmingham Public Schools district, which is 95 percent African-American.”

– The state of Florida leads the nation in sending more children to adult court. Ninety-eight percent of those children were transferred to adult court without a hearing before a judge.

– In 2011, two Luzerne County, Pennsylvania, judges were imprisoned in a $2.6 million bribery scheme that sent juveniles to “private, for-profit juvenile detention centers.” More than 2,500 children were impacted by the crooked judges’ actions.

nGuards in Pennsylvania’s Walnut Grove facility often encouraged youth-on-youth rapes, “brazen sexual misconduct by prison staffers.” An SPLC lawsuit led to the elimination of youth being housed at Walnut Grove.

– Data proves the brain does not reach its full peak until a person reaches their mid-20s. Experts say the portion of the brain that controls “rational decision making is the last to develop.”

– A study of 46 states by the Justice Policy Institute notes confining a youth can cost as much as $148,767 annually.

 

My opinion:

– Children should be disciplined for committing crimes, but the type of punishment should correlate with the transgression. Youth should not be incarcerated for minor offenses that require discipline rather than discriminatory incarceration.

– When we punish children, we need to do so in a way that helps them learn from their actions and become better citizens. While this method won’t be the case with all youth, it could make a positive difference for the majority.

– I have said it time and time again: We have to proactively work toward reducing mass incarceration rates by investing in education beginning at a child’s formative years and continuing through his or her college experience. America can spend far less to educate youth than the $148,767 a year currently being paid to house them in a detention center or correctional facility.

– In addition to minority youth being unfairly incarcerated at disproportionate rates, prisons are ineffective because they do little to rehabilitate offenders. Instead, they cause continual damage that extends beyond crime and includes disrupting the family unit, ruining relationships and stifling future opportunities of inmates by limiting their ability to do basic things such as vote, seek safe housing or even find quality jobs.

– All private, for-profit prisons need to be abolished by the federal government. The financial benefits to these institutions are too lucrative and deep-seated, which results in an unfair and highly discriminatory criminal justice system.

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