Closing DC’s School to Prison Pipeline
Background on TimeBanks USA (www.TimeBanks.org)
TimeBanks USA (“TBUSA”) is building a movement to reform economic and social systems, policies and practices so that they empower people to create the type of communities they want and need. With affiliates in more than 35 states and over 30 countries, this nimble “think and do” tank catalyzes innovations. DC’s Time Dollar Youth Court is one such innovation. It diverts 60-70% of non-violent youth offenses from the Courts back to the community through a peer-governed jury process in which young people restore justice.
The Racial Justice Initiative (www.RacialJusticeInitiative.org)
TBUSA formally launched the Racial Justice Initiative (RJI or the Initiative) in 2009, with the RJI’s first Colloquium. There, the Initiative, collected input for its seminal law review article, An Offer They Can’t Refuse: Deliberate Indifference Meets Juvenile Justice Alternatives that Work, Cahn & Robbins, 13 UDC/DCSL L. Rev. 71 (2010). This article sets forth the RJI’s evolving strategy to challenge policies that disproportionately push young people of color into the delinquency system. Our current work aims to shut down the “School to Prison Pipeline,” by promoting more progressive school discipline policies. We are targeting the over-reliance on punitive, exclusionary school discipline such as suspension and expulsion, and the disproportionate rate at which youth of color and youth with disabilities are pushed out of school. Extended absences from class and school make it virtually impossible for students to re-engage and graduate.
The RJI engages affected students and their families, along with advocates, experts and public officials in Public Documentation Forums (PDF), also called Public Notice Hearings. These forums are designed to document evidence about the injury of present practices and the availability of more effective alternatives. Sharing this information publicly promotes accountability for doing what we know works. Once officials are informed about the existence of more effective, less expensive, less discriminatory alternatives to exclusionary school discipline practices, failure to adopt those alternatives may trigger a legal mandate to compel the use of knowledge about effective strategies, policies and practices.
As part of the preparation for a Public Documentation Forum, the RJI team engages in extensive research and analysis of the targeted jurisdiction. We review local statutes, regulations, policies and practices; perform statistical analysis of the number of youth within the school systems and jurisdiction; determine the percentages referred from key public systems (e.g., law enforcement, schools); and investigate the number and quality of alternatives to system engagement programs currently available and easily replicable from locally and nationally known models. The RJI is excited to learn about community-based alternatives from a host of people including families, educators, advocates, experts and officials.
Why is the Racial Justice Initiative Focusing on DC?
We’re conducting a Public Documentation Forum in DC because we live here. Our community is also uniquely well positioned to succeed, due to the intensified efforts of DC Public Schools and the DC Public Charter School Board to secure the data required to track and address the over-reliance on exclusionary school discipline practices in traditional and charter public schools. In addition, there is an engaged accountability circle ready to use this strategy to challenge, inform and improve the decision-making practices at different stages of the school discipline process. We seek commitments from community leaders to participate as witnesses and conveners. We hope to be part of the solution by advancing successful discipline strategies such as positive behaviors and supports, restorative justice, peer mentoring and classroom management techniques to create a culture of achievement and learning in public schools.