U.S. Senate Subcommittee Holds Hearings On School-to-Prison Pipeline

Last Updated: April 11, 2013

This article appeared in the April 2013 Rural Policy Matters.

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In December, the U.S. Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights held a public hearing entitled “Ending the School-to-Prison Pipeline.” Over 400 attendees packed the hearing and overflow rooms to hear public officials, national experts, a juvenile court judge, a student organizer, and others describe the policies and practices of schools that are using “discipline” measures to push students out of schools and into incarceration.

In announcing the hearing, Assistant Majority Leader Dick Durbin (D-IL), Chairman of the Subcommittee said, “For many young people, our schools are increasingly a gateway to the criminal justice system.”

This first-ever Congressional hearing on the school-to-prison pipeline focused on the alarming rate at which young people are being pushed out of the classroom and into the courts for relatively minor, non-violent offenses.

The Subcommittee heard from two panels of experts. The first panel included Deborah Delisle, Assistant Education Secretary, and Melodee Hanes, acting administrator of the Justice Department’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. A second panel included Steven Teske, Chief Judge of the Juvenile Court in Clayton County, Georgia, whose efforts to reduce school referrals to his court have drawn national attention for significantly reducing arrests and increasing graduation rates. Another panelist, Edward Ward, of the organization Blocks Together, described his experiences in a Chicago high school dominated by a police presence that intimidated students, including those who had exhibited no discipline problems. Ward is now an honor student at DePaul University.

A number of grassroots organizations from around the country that are working to address the school to prison crisis and promote alternative approaches sent representatives, including youth members to testify or attend the hearing. Other national groups, including the Dignity in Schools Campaign, American Civil Liberties Union, GLSEN, Gay-Straight Alliance Network, and the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights under Law and state groups including Gwinnett STOPP (Georgia) and Citizens for a Better Greenville (Mississippi) submitted written testimony.

Wide-ranging recommendations for federal action included increasing collection of data on discipline incidents and school-based arrests; support for improved discipline practices like Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS) and Restorative Justice; ending corporal punishment; and abolishing zero tolerance policies. Other recommendations included increasing funding for poverty reduction programs and improving investigations where there are alleged violations of special education laws.

The fact that the hearing was held has been credited to the efforts of community-led organizations to bring attention to the problem.

Read more:

Press coverage of the hearing:

Written testimony of panelists and a video recording of the hearing is available from this page:

Written testimony from other organizations is compiled here:

Read more from the April 2013 Rural Policy Matters.