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Hundreds March To Protest 'School-To-Prison' Pipeline

By aaroncynic in News on May 20, 2014 9:00PM

Hundreds marched Monday night from Lawndale to the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center to call for an end to what they call the “school to prison pipeline.” Activists began their march with a rally at Paderewski Elementary, a school that was among the more than 50 closed in 2013 down Ogden Avenue to the detention center.

Members of nearly 30 different community activist groups said they wanted to see more investment in education alternative programs for youth, rather than in prisons.

“Somebody once told me when you close a school you open a prison,” said Malcolm London, a member of the group Black Youth Project 100, as demonstrators placed and tied small padlocks to the fence in front of the school. “We’re placing these padlocks to symbolize being locked out of our systems,” said another demonstrator.

A recent report from the Chicago Youth Justice Data Project looked at 35,000 former Chicago Public School students and found that incarceration as a youth has “strong negative affects” on that child’s chances to get an education. Incarcerated youth were 39 percent less likely to finish high school than their peers. The report also found incarcerated youth have a higher recidivism rate, with young offenders sent to prison having a 67 percent higher chance of ending up in jail again before they turn 25. Most young offenders inside the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice are there for non-violent crimes or parole violations, but have a much higher risk of ending up back inside for more serious offenses later.

Speaking to the crowd in front of the school, Erica Phillips, a former Paderwiski Elementary student said:

“By sending these troubled youth to detention centers or juvie, it only ruins them. They’re branded as criminals and now their futures are destroyed because they can’t get the education that they deserve. Worse yet, they just go back to doing what they’re doing and causing a cycle into adulthood where they’re sent to even bigger prisons.”

Arrest records for youth can in fact, trouble them for years—even decades—to come. According to WBEZ, there were 26,255 juvenile arrests that took place in 2013, some 20,000 that didn’t lead to formal charges. Juvenile records however, can’t be expunged until the person turns 18, and only 660 expungement petitions were granted that year. “You can get arrested and go to court and a jury can find you ‘not guilty’ and the court record and arrest record of that incident in which you were actually found ‘not guilty’ is still going to be on your record until you exercise your rights to expungement and you clear the record through the court process,” said Sharlyn Grace from the group LAF, formerly known as Legal Assistance Foundation.

Statistics also show that young people of color are disproportionally incarcerated. When the Chicago Youth Justice Data Project looked at the numbers on Aug. 31, 2013 and March 31, 2014, they found between 63 percent and 66 percent of incarcerated youth were black and 11 percent were Hispanic. “This is something we deal with every day, where us brown and black kids have to be belittled, because we’re just not important enough,” said Nidalis Burgos, an organizer with the Chicago Students Union.

As demonstrators read the names and told the stories of friends and family they have who are or were incarcerated, Darius Lightfoot, youth organizer with Fearless Leading by the Youth (FLY), said:

“What I call injustice is this place behind me, Darius. Kids who stay in here for non-violent crimes who wouldn’t have to be in here. They waste $52 million a year on this place right behind me. What could they do? They can shut this place down and build restorative justice hubs throughout the neighborhoods.

Freelance journalist Mike Mikasi contributed to this report.