The School to Prison Pipeline in Utah

By Vanessa Walsh for the Public Policy Clinic blog.

On October 6, 2014, the Public Policy Clinic released its report, From Fingerpaint to Fingerprints: The School to Prison Pipeline in Utah. Among other things, the report shows over 1,200 disciplinary actions were given in Utah elementary schools in 2011—including law enforcement referrals, school-related arrests, and expulsions. The data shows that children with disabilities are twice as likely to be disciplined at school as their non disabled peers and that children of color are 1.5 to 3.5 times more likely to be disciplined than white children.

The report provides examples of steps taken in Utah and by the Federal government, including the use of Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) and restorative practices in Utah’s schools. While these are positive first steps, more must be done.

The report is meant to share the data and start a statewide dialogue about this issue. The Public Policy Clinic is actively working on engaging the community in this issue. Many of the children being disciplined have learning disabilities, live in poverty, or have histories of abuse and neglect. They would benefit from additional educational and counseling services instead of suspensions and expulsions.

Students in the Clinic are meeting with Utah representatives and senators with the objective of finding a sponsor to create a state taskforce to examine this issue.   The legislature is in the best position to take the lead and jump-start the conversation about how we can do a better job of keeping our kids in school. It is also in the best position to make sure key stakeholders—educators, parent groups, school administrators, school resource officers, and judges—are included.

Community investment in this dialogue and a commitment to create sustainable change will be the only way we can eliminate the school-to-prison pipeline in our state.