The BBC World Service has produced an excellent audio documentary about how the public school system in Texas criminalizes petty student misbehavior. Perhaps the most eye-opening moment is when a young teen describes how security officers repeatedly issued misdemeanor citations to students who didn’t comply with the school’s dress code policy.
Although these citations can in theory be expunged, for too many students, these citations are the de facto beginning of the pipeline to prison. Citations for truancy are particularly easy to rack up, and with that, come increasingly severe punishments.
As a criminal defense attorney who represents juveniles in Los Angeles, I know that the “school to prison” pipeline also exists in California. The details are different, and some of the laws here are not quite as draconian as they are in Texas. But here too, the schools and juvenile court system are chronically denied necessary funding. Here too some organizations have a vested financial interest in sending more and more people to prison. Most of all, the same so-called “tough on crime” philosophy dominates the political process.
The tone of BBC report is similar to what we would use to introduce people to something not quite believable. There is a certain “report from primitive America” feel to the whole documentary. If only some of our policy makers could sense just how bizarre, disturbing, and harmful some of our juvenile justice policies are.