The School to Prison Pipeline, Part IV: WNY solutions

Sep 27, 2019

Credit Photo illustration: WBFO News

Funneling students out of classrooms and into prison is a problem for kids of color, but what solutions are being tried?

In the final part of our weeklong series on the school-to-prison pipeline, we look at a  local district that has found a way to manage the pipeline

And in an exclusive online only report  we also look at a Western New York college's  program to help students continue their education if they've ended up in prison.

Credit Randolph Academy

Randolph Academy's Hopevale Campus is  tucked discreetly off Howard Road in Hamburg, a satellite facility for their school district in the Southern Tier.  It’s not typical. Inside, instead of harsh fluorescent bulbs you are greeted with lights covered with light blue material. Staying calm is a pervasive theme.

And while there are traditional classes – there is also a more relaxed way of conflict resolution underway to handle students for whom the school is a last chance at staying out of juvenile detention or even jail.

Research done in 2012 and in 2014 by Johns Hopkins University shows that even one suspension in a student’s career doubles the likelihood that they will drop out of school.  With more suspensions he potential for dropping out increases exponentially.

But at Randolph Academy, talking circles and discussion about behavior has replaced harsh discipline that would otherwise bounce a student from school and down the school-to-prison pipeline.

“Studies have shown that suspensions can lead to prison. We are trying to break that cycle,” says Laura Heeter, Randolph’s restorative justice coordinator.

African Americans and Latinx are disproportionately caught up in the criminal justice system. Together, African Americans and Hispanics and/or Latinos made up half of the U.S. prisoners in 2017, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, though they represent only a combined 32% of the general population. African Americans are incarcerated at more than five times the rate of whites, according to the NAACP, and that racial disparity is reinforced by the school-to-prison pipeline..

“We’re hoping eventually what we can lead them into is helping with those conflicts and helping students solve conflicts. “  Heeter says

Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley

ONLINE EXTRA:  Randolph Academy’s Restorative Justice program is just one that could keep a kid out of prison. Medaille College meanwhile has one that helps those that are already there.

Medaille is one of only seven New York State institutions of higher education to offer college course to prisoners. The College-in-Priosn re-entry program puts education in the middle of prisoner rehabilitation.

“If we do nothing, we know that individual will go back to prison over and over again until they’re there for the rest of their life… that data is really clear,” says Kenneth Macur, Medialle’s president.