As someone who wants to raise her children in Virginia, it breaks my heart to know that Virginia leads the nation in pushing children out of school and into the hands of the broken criminal justice system. But it makes my heart feel a little better knowing that there are local organizations fighting to keep our kids out of jail.
An infuriating example of Virginia’s criminalization of youth hits way too close to home. Right in Chesterfield, near where I live, almost 4,000 students had criminal complaints filed against them from 2013-2016. Half of that huge number were Black students, despite their enrollment rate being just 26 percent in the county.
I know that the criminalization of Virginia students of color is an extension of mass incarceration, which is the unfounded spike in arrests and incarceration since 1970. The sting of the racial disparities within the school-to-prison pipeline is pretty painful, especially as a Black woman who has to consider how my child will be treated for mild infractions or even the perception of a threat, just because of their race.
The School-To-Prison Pipeline in Virginia
The “school-to-prison pipeline” refers to the systematic pushout of students of color from school, by implementing disciplinary practices that put students in contact with law enforcement officers and funneling them into the criminal justice system. This shows up in a few ways, including the prioritization of funding for law enforcement over counselors. If there are more cops than counselors to deal with disciplinary issues, cops are more likely to file charges and put kids into the criminal justice system.
What blows my mind even more? The arrests for children are based on non-threatening criteria like running away from home or drawing on a desk. According to Virginia’s Department of Juvenile Justice, incarceration just highlights our lack of support for our struggling or marginalized youth. For example:
- As of 2015, there were 410 Black youth detained in Virginia youth prisons for every 100,000 students.
- In contrast, their white counterparts have 59 detainments for every 100,000 youth.
Grassroots Organizations in Virginia Leading the Fight Against the School to Prison Pipeline
Luckily, our community is pushing work along to change these numbers. There are local organizations right here in Richmond that are fighting for the end of youth incarceration! Performing Statistics, a previous program of Art180, is dedicated to creating outlets and alternatives to youth incarceration. This includes opposing the construction of additional youth prisons in 2016, leading youth parades, and advocating for Virginia policy changes and investment in community-based alternatives to incarceration.
General Assembly session is quickly approaching. Delegate Jeion Ward is teaming up with Richmond non-profit Rise For Youth to write a new bill to aid this fight. She is introducing a Healthy Communities Secure Care Policy, a bill with the goal of limiting the amount of youth that can be imprisoned in Virginia. We don’t need more youth prisons in Virginia. We already have tons of kids sitting behind bars instead of dinner tables with their families. Now that we have a progressive majority in Virginia’s state legislature, hopefully more legislation that addresses the school to prison pipeline will be introduced to accompany Del. Ward’s bill.
In order to stand with our community and push back against youth incarceration, sign on and show your support to Rise For Youth’s endorsement of the Healthy Communities Secure Care policy now. This policy would keep youth facilities small and within the areas that the children are from.
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