Court system pushes juveniles from school to jail at early age

Marty McAndrews

Texas law enforcement agencies issue 275,000 nontraffic tickets to juveniles each year, most of which are linked to school-related misbehavior, said Deborah Fowler, deputy director of public interest law center Texas Appleseed.

Minority and special education students receive a large portion of the number of tickets and referrals, and the number of campus arrests is a pressing issue, Fowler said.

UT’s Barbara Jordan Freedom Foundation and Social, Health and Economic Policymakers invited Fowler to host an open forum Tuesday on Texas’ school-to-prison pipeline — a trend in which children are funneled out of the public school system and into the criminal justice system. The phenomenon is a result of Texas’ courts’ involvement in school discipline, which often leads to increased dropout rates or incarceration, Fowler said.

Fowler said the school-to-prison pipeline sweeps up children as young as 5 years old.

“Kindergartners are referred to alternative programs and children as young as 6 years old are receiving tickets,” Fowler said.

“We’ve come a long way since Brown v. the Board of Education barring admission of African-American students from public schools, but what we have here is a lot more subtle and no less problematic.”

Black special education students run an especially high risk, especially because they are also over-represented in special education, said public affairs graduate student Sarah Mahin.

Public affairs graduate student Sascha Weiss said English-language learners also face a disadvantage, especially as a result of high-stakes testing, which partially decides a school’s funding.

“They’re required to take standardized testing, even if they haven’t been at the school one year,” Weiss said. “The administration sees these students bringing down the school’s scores and creates an environment that encourages the student to pursue other schooling.”

Public affairs graduate student Harry Lindner documented high-school aged illegal immigrants in a UT-funded film.
“They told me that they had no incentive to finish high school or go to college,” Lindner said. “They don’t have a social security number, so once they complete college they can’t get employment. They can get a nurse’s degree, but they can’t become a registered nurse. They can get a law degree, but they can’t practice law.”