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October 20, 2015
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For Immediate Release
Contact:  Nancy Parello | nparello@acnj.org | (908) 399-6031

Forum aims to end “school to prison” pipeline

Nearly 300 members of the law enforcement, education and court communities convened today to identify ways they can work together to prevent school discipline issues from landing youth in court and in the juvenile justice system.

Research has shown that calling in law enforcement to deal with a student’s behavioral problems is an ineffective way to address these issues and could lead to harmful, long-term consequences not anticipated by educators.

This “school to prison pipeline” can be avoided through collaboration among law enforcement, the court system, community organizations and school administrators, said keynote speaker the Honorable Steven C. Teske, chief judge, Juvenile Court of Clayton County Georgia, who has worked with school districts across the country to develop more effective responses to these issues.

“A single decision made in response to a youth’s negative behavior can have a significant impact on the trajectory of that child’s life,” Teske said. “Should a child’s life be defined by what he did at age 14?”

Education Commissioner David C. Hespe urged school leaders to contact law enforcement only as a last resort.

“We want and need all of our children to succeed in life, regardless of where they live and regardless of their life circumstances,” Hespe said. “And we know that today, it’s nearly impossible for any child to be successful without having a high school diploma. I call on our educators and our partners responsible for our youth to go the extra mile and do all they can to keep every at-risk child in school.

“Putting students on long-term suspensions or sending them to juvenile detention centers virtually guarantees that they won’t finish high school,” Hespe added. “Such extreme discipline should be only as a carefully-considered last resort.”  

Attending the conference were police chiefs, school board presidents, superintendents, county prosecutors and juvenile court judges and other staff.

The event, held at the Eatontown Sheraton, was sponsored by the New Jersey Governor’s Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Committee, the New Jersey Council for Juvenile Justice System Improvement and Advocates for Children of New Jersey, in collaboration with the New Jersey Department of Education, the New Jersey Juvenile Justice Commission and the New Jersey Alliance of Family Support Organization.       

The forum’s goals were to:
  • Obtain a clear understanding of the “school to prison pipeline.”
  • Develop stronger relationships among professionals in the juvenile justice and education systems and families of at-risk youth, at both the state and locals levels.
  • Raise awareness among school officials about the negative impact of juvenile justice system involvement and zero-tolerance policies on youth.
  • Create teams that will craft local solutions to address the issue and identify whether broader policy changes are needed at either the local or state levels.
A panel made up of members of the educational and juvenile justice systems discussed solutions that should be advanced in New Jersey.

New Jersey is recognized nationally for its success in reducing the number of youth held in county detention centers without any increased risk to public safety, said panelist Jennifer LeBaron, Ph.D. director, Office of Local Programs and Services, New Jersey Juvenile Justice Commission.

“This was achieved through county-based teams working in the statewide Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative.  We hope to use a similar approach to address discipline and behavioral issues in schools and to include school leaders and families of at-risk youth in this collaborative, solution-oriented and data-driven process,” LeBaron said.

“Over the years, we have made great strides to ensure that juveniles are given a second chance,” added Senator Nellie Pou (D-Bergen/Passaic).  “With the help of the Juvenile Justice Commission, the Office of the Attorney General, organizations and advocates, we pushed for and adopted legislation to improve the system and ultimately rehabilitate young individuals in detention centers. Now, we need to build on that collaboration to further reduce juvenile’s involvement with the criminal justice system.”

After the forum presentations, attendees met in county-based groups to develop plans to follow-up with the recommendations and solutions identified at the forum.

“It is critical that we keep young people in school, with their families and limit their contact with law enforcement for minor offenses,” said Kevin Brown, executive director, New Jersey Juvenile Justice Commission. “We know that the school to prison pipeline affects minority and disadvantaged youth disproportionately.  We also know that those young people who come into contact with the juvenile justice system will be less likely to succeed.”

“As the state agency leading juvenile justice reform, the JJC is committed to working with our schools, our law enforcement and our communities to help replicate the successes that we have made in other areas of juvenile justice reform,” Brown added.


Advocates for Children of New Jersey  (ACNJ) works with local, state and federal leaders to identify and implement changes that will benefit New Jersey’s children. www.acnj.org

Advocates for Children of New Jersey

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