College of Law to explore Utah’s school-to-prison pipeline at March 30 event

Researchers, educators, social workers, court personnel, students and community members will meet at the University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law for a symposium designed to discuss how to reverse Utah’s troubling school- to-prison pipeline trend.

Th event, “Empowering the community to combat the school-to-prison pipeline,” will take place on March 30 from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Registration information is available here.  It is co-sponsored by the College of Law and Racially Just Utah. 

“The school-to-prison-pipeline is the systemic funneling of youth, primarily minority youth, out of schools and into the criminal justice system. This is a problem that has been highlighted as a serious issue in Utah schools, and this event is an opportunity to learn more about the topic, and different changes that are being suggested to remedy this problem,” said Cambre Roberts, a law student who is chair of the symposium and the Social Justice Student Initiative at the College of Law.

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.

Topics that will be highlighted at this year’s event include a legislative update and discussion of the work law students from the College of Law’s Public Policy Clinic contributed to the report “And Justice for All Children” earlier this year.