Colorado Youth Win Agreement to Stem the School to Prison Pipeline

Last Updated: May 30, 2013

This article appeared in the May 2013 Rural Policy Matters.

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In February, Padres et Jovenes Unidos (PJU) successfully negotiated important reforms on behalf of students likely to be caught up in the school to prison pipeline. The group (whose name translates in English as Parents and Youth United) addresses a variety of educational justice issues. It facilitated a new interagency agreement between Denver Public Schools (DPS) and the Denver Police Department (DPD). That agreement is meant to limit the exposure of students to the criminal justice system for typical adolescent misbehavior that could be handled by the school.

Police have said they have no desire to be disciplinarians. "That's not our job. That's the parents' job, that's the schools' job,” said DPD Chief Robert White. “Our job is to deal with serious violations of the law and that's what we're going to do."

The agreement specifically states that the DPD will recognize the DPS policy of restorative justice and will provide notice to parents more quickly when students are arrested or ticketed. Another important point of the agreement is that School Resource Officers (SROs) will receive specialized training in adolescent development, teenage psychology, restorative justice, positive behavior interventions and supports, and other alternate disciplinary approaches. The training will also include segments on cultural competence. Previously, there were no limits on SROs’ use of ticketing or arrests in DPS.

Several national school discipline reform experts were present at the news conference held in conjunction with the signing of the agreement, including Judge Steven Teske of Clayton County, Georgia. Teske’s collaborative efforts with schools and law enforcement to limit juvenile contact with the criminal justice system have been considered model reforms. “Kids are neurologically wired to do stupid things,” Teske said. “When young people are under neurological construction, it is important we place them in safe and positive places and not push them out of the safe and positive places.”

DPS Superintendent Tom Boasberg addressed the agreement saying, "We have seen that restorative justice works best to keep our schools safer, to keep our students in school studying, and to help our students learn from their mistakes and make them right. I want to thank our community partners who have supported and pushed us in this work. Making sweeping changes in Denver requires collaboration on all levels and partners like the Denver Police Department and Padres & Jóvenes Unidos are critical to those very promising improvements."

According to some experts, improving student and community relationships with the police can improve school safety by deterring some crimes and encouraging the reporting of crimes. The number of suspensions and expulsions in DPS have declined since PJU started working in the community.

PJU’s efforts are unique because they are directed by youth of color. To develop the agreement, PJU held regular meetings between law enforcement and the community and with school administrators.

A previous interagency agreement was signed between the parties in 2004 but this new document includes accountability measures and continues to shift emphasis away from the use of zero tolerance policies. It calls on police to work to de-escalate potentially violent situations whenever possible and requires the school to alert SROs to students who have an Individualized Education Plan or an identified disability.

The agreement is for a five-year period.

Read more:

Local coverage of the agreement:

National coverage that includes an historical overview of the STTP and commentary on the emphasis on law enforcement in schools:

Website of Padres et Jovenes Unidos:

Ending the Schoolhouse to Jailhouse Track website, which is the work of Advancement Project, a partner in the Colorado work:


Read more from the May 2013 Rural Policy Matters.