How Promise Neighborhoods are Dismantling the School to Prison Pipeline

02 May 2015 | Henrissa Bassey
How Promise Neighborhoods are Dismantling the School to Prison Pipeline

Youth with disabilities, young people of color, and youth who identify as LGBTQI are disproportionately arrested, detained, and incarcerated. Unfortunately, time spent in a juvenile detention center increases a young person’s risk of truancy, dropout, and risky behavior. When compared to youth who have never been incarcerated, youth who have experienced juvenile detention are 30 percent less likely to complete high school and yet are 44 percent more likely to be incarcerated as an adult. Juvenile detention also translates to time spent with little to no quality general or special education classes, and an increased risk of sexual assault, humiliation, and solitary confinement. Tragically, youth who are at-risk of incarceration are already struggling through the realities of: living in unsafe communities; facing academic, emotional, and behavioral challenges; and lacking access to healthy food.

Given the gravity of risk factors prior to, and after, time spent in a juvenile detention facility, Promise Neighborhoods communities must implement a disciplined continuum of solutions to ensure that the distinct needs of this population are met. Without such a plan, communities will continue to miss out on the opportunity to secure educational and economic equity for all young people.

Promise Neighborhoods in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and Buffalo, New York, are responding to this need and in the process replacing the school-to-prison pipeline with a cradle-to-career continuum of services.

The Northside Achievement Zone (NAZ) located in Minneapolis, Minnesota is reducing gang affiliations and community violence by providing life skills, trainings, and employment opportunities to 60 young people between the ages of 16 to 21 who identify as gang-affiliated and have criminal histories. Through this nine month program, North4 Community Builder, NAZ connects young people to: 20 hour job trainings; trainings on leadership, team building, anger management, budgeting, and financial management; and unsubsidized employment. Program participants will also learn anger management and techniques to de-escalate community level tensions that could potentially lead to violence.  Following their participation in the program, young people living in NAZ will embark on the pathway towards employment and away from gang or clique affiliations. Since its inception in 2010, the North 4 Project has facilitated nine different cohorts of 10-11, connecting a total of 103 youth living in the Northside Achievement Zone to internships or jobs.

Buffalo Promise Neighborhood’s PACE (Positive Actions Create Excellence) program has partnered with the Buffalo Police Department (BPD) and Buffalo United Front, Inc., to connect with and encourage individuals who were formerly gang-involved to serve as “street-level” mentors who: engage gang-involved youth, negotiate peace between area gangs, provide insight related to staying out of gangs, help young people return to and remain in school, and work with partner organizations to connect clients to appropriate academic, mental health and employment services. The Buffalo Police Department (BPD) refers youth to PACE which provides strategic case management to at-risk youth, clinical assessments, and case conferences to monitor the progress of each enrolled participant. Thanks to Buffalo Promise Neighborhood’s diligent and zealous work, 21 percent of young people participating in this program have returned to high school, or are either employed or enrolled in a vocational training program. Additionally, 36 percent of participants have received crucial counseling for mental health and substance abuse concerns. These services have accelerated the ability of young people growing up in a Buffalo Promise Neighborhood to access the necessary services and supports as they travel from cradle to college and through successful careers.

In Detroit, Michigan, Black Family Development, Inc., the lead agency for the Detroit Clark Park/Osborne Promise Neighborhood is spearheading efforts to ensure that young people who have been involved in the juvenile justice system and are returning to their families and communities, are returning to a continuum of services connecting them to equitable opportunities for educational achievement and personal wellbeing. Black Family Development, Inc. offers young people reentering their community referral and treatment services, after school support, and advocacy. When a young person returns from a juvenile detention facility, a case manager from Black Family Development, Inc. works with the young person to establish goals and ensure that the young person achieves these goals.

Moreover, to secure non-punitive punishment at the school level, Black Family Development, Inc. (BFD) has partnered with the International Institute for Restorative Practices, to implement restorative justice programs at schools located within the Detroit Promise Neighborhood and to train school staff to implement restorative practices in their daily interactions with young students. Over 1, 900 faculty members and community members have been trained in the International Institute for Restorative Practices model. Moreover, 94 percent of youth who have participated in BFD’s restorative justice program have remained free of the juvenile justice system.

The Promise Neighborhoods Institute at PolicyLink supports and encourages all Promise Neighborhoods as they build their cradle to career continuum, reduce recidivism in their communities, and ensure that all children living in Promise Neighborhoods are connected to valuable opportunities for economic, emotional, academic, and intrapersonal success.