Researchers, educators, social workers, court personnel, students and community members will meet at the University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law on Jan. 30 for a symposium designed to discuss how to reverse Utah’s troubling school- to-prison pipeline trend.
The symposium comes in the aftermath of a report issued by the law school’s Public Policy Clinic, “From Fingerpaint to Fingerprints: The School-to-Prison Pipeline in Utah,” in which researchers found that school disciplinary actions handed down to students at Utah public schools disproportionately impact students of color and students with disabilities enrolled in the state’s public education system.
The statistics in the report are startling. For example, students identified with disabilities are twice as likely to receive a school disciplinary action as students without a disability. Studies show that suspension and expulsion rates are closely correlated with dropout and delinquency rates, and have tremendous economic costs. Referrals to law enforcement and arrests at school are the harshest forms of school disciplinary action and expose students directly to the juvenile justice system, according to the researchers. Such students often become part of the “school-to-prison pipeline,” or STPP, wherein children are funneled out of public schools and into the juvenile and criminal justice systems through a combination of overly harsh Zero-Tolerance school policies and the increased involvement of law enforcement in schools.
Since the report was issued, law students have collaborated with community partners and have organized several initiatives to try to shed light on the issue. The Jan. 30 event features several speakers, including Rep. Sandra Hollins, D-Salt Lake City, who plans to introduce legislation aimed at addressing the School-to Prison Pipeline in Utah Schools in the wake of the public policy clinic’s report.
“We have used the data from the report to engage in critical conversations regarding the STPP’s unique impact on marginalized communities. We hope people begin to consider how power and privilege can influence the way we approach policy and reform and actively invest in improving the system for all youth, particularly our most vulnerable.” said Nubia Peña, a third-year law student, co-organizer of the Jan. 30 event and contributing author of the report. “Our goal is for participants to better understand the School-to-Prison pipeline in our community and feel inspired to collectively work towards dismantling the pipeline in Utah.”
The symposium is a collaboration between law students, the S.J. Quinney College of Law’s Public Policy Clinic, Racially Just Utah, the ACLU, UCASA and the Social Justice Student Initiative. The University of Utah’s Office of Community Engagement and the Utah Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers are participating sponsors.
“In this age of mass incarceration, it’s absolutely critical that we examine and dismantle all unnecessary on-ramps into the criminal justice system – especially so in our schools, where young people are meant to be gathering skills and social capital for the rest of their lives,” said Anna Brower, strategic communications manager for the ACLU of Utah. “The ACLU of Utah is proud to be taking part in this symposium, and we’re hopeful that it will help engage more local advocates in the fight to prioritize education over incarceration for young people in our public schools.”
The event will be held at the S.J. Quinney College of Law, 383 South University Street, in rooms 6613 and 6619. Registration is requested for the event, which starts at 9 a.m. and ends at 5 p.m. Lunch will be provided. For more information, contact the Public Policy Clinic at firstname.lastname@example.org.