Archive for the ‘Incarceration’ Category

Racism In America: The Road To The New Jim Crow Runs Along The School To Prison Pipeline

Thursday, September 29th, 2022

The story of mass incarceration in America is bigger than American jails and prisons, even with their two million captives. And it’s bigger than probation and parole, even with the five million people held in the prison of their homes through ankle bracelets, weekly drug tests and GPS technology.

Thus, Reuben Jonathan Miller writes in the Introduction to his book Halfway Home: Race, Punishment and the Afterlife of Mass Incarceration, published by Little, Brown and Company in 2021.

Today, 19.6 million people live with a felony record, four times the size of the population on probation and parole and ten times the size of the American prison census. One-third of those people are Black. More impressive is that one-third of currently living Black American men have felony records.  Think about that for a moment. And then ponder that the number of Black women behind bars is eight times greater today than in 1980.

Since the early 1970s, we have been incrementally putting Black Americans in a crime box. Today, as Miller writes, “An entire class of people are presumed guilty of some unspecified crime long before they break a law.” Does the phrase, “Driving while Black” ring a bell?

This week, in a new study from the National Registry of Exonerations, we learn Black Americans are seven times more likely than white people to be falsely convicted of serious crimes, and spend longer in prison before exoneration.

The study examined defendants who were exonerated after serving at least part of a sentence — sometimes spending decades in prison. From the study’s findings:

  • Black people represent 13.6% of the American population, but account for 53% of 3,200 exonerations in the registry as of Aug. 8, 2022;
  • Innocent Black Americans were 7½ times more likely to be convicted of murder than innocent white people; and,
  • The convictions that led to murder exonerations of Black defendants were almost 50% more likely to include misconduct by police officers.

Most of those long-serving Black defendants were exonerated by a handful of big city prosecutorial conviction integrity units (CIUs). It appears they have only scratched the surface.

How did this happen? One reason is because of the well-maintained “school to prison pipeline.”

Beginning in the 1970s, educators figured out that kids acting out in school could seriously disrupt learning for their classmates. What to do? The answer? Suspend them. And that’s what happened. It started with a trickle that slowly turned into Niagara Falls. And the kids most often suspended were Black, followed by Latino.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, which last year ordered school districts to respond to student misbehavior in “fair, non-discriminatory, and effective” ways, Black students are suspended and expelled at a rate three times greater than White students, while Black and Latino students account for 70 percent of police referrals.

The bias—racism—starts young. Black children represent 18 percent of pre-school students, but account for 48 percent of pre-school suspensions. Yes, we’re talking about 4-year-olds. Also, students with disabilities are twice as likely to be suspended than their non-disabled peers, and LGBT students are 1.4 times more likely to face suspension than their straight peers.

According to the National Education Association,

According to research, Black students do not “act out” in class more frequently than their White peers. But Black students are more likely to be sent to the principal’s office for subjective offenses, like “disrupting class,” and they’re more likely to be sent there by White teachers, according to Kirwan Institute research on implicit bias. (White students, on the other hand, are more likely to be suspended for objective offenses, like drug possession.)

The Kirwan Institute blames “cultural deficit thinking,” which leads educators to “harbor negative assumptions about the ability, aspirations, and work ethic of these students—especially poor students of color—based on the assumption that they and their families do not value education.” These racist perceptions create a stereotype that students of color are disrespectful and disruptive, which zero tolerance policies exploit.

You can follow all this like a bright red rope in the snow. For some kids, Black especially, going to school leads to suspensions, which leads to staying out of school, which leads to questionable behavior, which leads to incarceration, which leads to a wasted life.

The Kirwan Institute calls this “implicit bias.” I call it implicit racism.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. Many educators now realize they have been feeding the lion, rather than helping the student. In Colorado, for example a new law restricting the use of suspensions and expulsions has resulted in suspensions falling by 25 percent, while school attendance and punctuality have improved by 30 percent.

In Maryland’s Montgomery County Education Association, the superintendent and teachers put together a new student code of conduct that minimizes suspensions and allows students to learn from their mistakes. Meanwhile, other districts have signed “memorandums of understanding” with local law enforcement agencies that keep minor offenders out of criminal courts.

This represents progress, but progress only in a few places. The national school to prison pipeline still runs strong. And there is resistance to shutting it down.

Consider the tremendous efforts underway in red states to tamp down, even eliminate, discussion of race in schools. A bizarre and almost unbelievable one comes from Florida where, in April, Governor Ron DeSantis’s Education Department banned (they say “rejected”) 54 math textbooks, out of 132 submitted by publishers for the next school year. According to the  Department of Education, 26 of those math textbooks were rejected because they contained “prohibited topics,” including Critical Race Theory (CRT) and Social-Emotional Learning (SEL). 2+2 = Racism?

CRT is a graduate-level academic framework which explores “laws, policies, and procedures that function to produce racial inequality.” This is sometimes referred to as “structural racism.” It is not something you typically find discussed in a K-12 math textbook. In fact, it’s not typically addressed in K-12 at all.

Florida Commissioner of Education Richard Corcoran said the math textbooks were rejected because children deserve “a world-class education without the fear of indoctrination or exposure to dangerous and divisive concepts in our classrooms.” The Department’s announcement, showed how much DeSantis controls things when it included this quote from him: “It seems that some publishers attempted to slap a coat of paint on an old house built on the foundation of Common Core, and indoctrinating concepts like race essentialism, especially, bizarrely, for elementary school students.” Wow! I had no idea math could be so divisive. Stupid me.

The Department’s announcement also carried this jewel:

“We’re going to ensure that Florida has the highest-quality instructional materials aligned to our nationally-recognized standards,” said Commissioner of Education Richard Corcoran. “Florida has become a national leader in education under the vision and leadership of Governor DeSantis. When it comes to education, other states continue to follow Florida’s lead as we continue to reinforce parents’ rights by focusing on providing their children with a world-class education without the fear of indoctrination or exposure to dangerous and divisive concepts in our classrooms.”

“Nationally recognized standards?” “National leader in education?” “World-class education?” This proved too big to resist.

Intelligent.com publishes annual state rankings of K-12 education drawing upon key metrics related to performance, safety, community, investment, class size, and attendance for all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Where does “national leader” Florida rank in the latest analysis? Smack dab in the middle of the pack. Number 27 in academic performance and number 25 in overall performance. In no area does Florida rank in either the top five or the bottom five. That is the definition of mediocre.

I’m happy to say that my Commonwealth of Massachusetts, which DeSantis considers a socialistic state, ranked Number 1 in the latest rankings.

One last point about those math textbooks banned in Florida. Judd Legum and his team at Popular Information, a site with which I am becoming fonder by the day, bought the banned books and read them all. Try as he and his team might, they could find nothing objectionable in any of them. I mean, it’s math!

Once again, Governor DeSantis flexes his imagined Popeye muscles to push his personal, ambitiously political agenda rather than  objective truth. Meanwhile, the school to prison pipeline remains alive and well and continues to throw Black kids off the educational cliff into the oblivion below.

While we feel great empathy and sympathy for our fellow citizens weathering Hurricane Ian in FLorida, the DeSantis paranoia about any of Florida’s children learning about and actually studying the history of racism right up to the present jacks us back into a more sophisticated, but still real, still deadly, Jim Crow South.