Welcome to the conversation!

Welcome to the conversation!

Harriet Beecher Stowe's (1811-1896) best-selling anti-slavery novel Uncle Tom's Cabin (1852), made her the most famous American woman of the 19th century and galvanized the abolition movement before the Civil War.

The Stowe Center is a 21st-century museum and program center using Stowe's story to inspire social justice and positive change.

The Salons at Stowe programs are a forum to connect the challenging issues (race, gender and class) that impelled Stowe to write and act with the contemporary face of those same issues. The Salon format is based on a robust level of audience participation, with the explicit goal of promoting civic engagement. Recent topics included: Teaching Acceptance; Is Prison the New Slavery; Traces of the Trade: A Story from the Deep North; Creativity and Change; Race, Gender and Politics Today; How to be an Advocate

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Monday, November 17, 2014

#SalonsatStowe Event Recap: "Children Behind Bars: Juvenile Justice" (11.13.14 Salon)

Keep the conversation going! After reading the conversation transcript and Inspiration to Action list, we encourage you to share your ideas, reactions, and plans for action in the "Comments" section below.

Featured Guests

Representative Toni Walker-State Representative, 93rd Assembly District
Representative Toni Walker is a seasoned social activist and advocate for youth, education, and human rights. As a Connecticut State Representative, Rep. Walker serves as House Chair of the Appropriations Committee and participates on several other legislative bodies, including the Higher Education and Judiciary Committees. For several years, Rep. Walker has committed herself to juvenile reform in Connecticut beginning with raising the age of juvenile jurisdiction. During the 2006 and 2007 legislative sessions, Representative Walker introduced and championed legislation that would allow for 16 and 17 year-olds to be considered juveniles in the eyes of Connecticut courts. Rep. Walker also created and chaired both the Juvenile Jurisdiction Planning and Implementation Committee and the Juvenile Jurisdiction Policy and Operations Coordinating Council.

Representative Walker has resided in New Haven for most of her child and adult life, and received an undergraduate degree from Southern Connecticut State University. She later received a Masters in Social Work from Fordham University.

Sandra Staub- Legal Director of the American Civil Liberties Union of CT
Sandra Staub has been legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut since 2010, supervising litigation and legislative advocacy. Among her major cases are Does v. Enfield Public Schools, which reinforced the separation of church and state, and Biediger v. Quinnipiac, which strengthened Title IX protection for female athletes. She has taken a leading role in the fight against racial profiling in Connecticut and serves on the Racial Profiling Prohibition Advisory Board. Before joining the ACLU of Connecticut, Sandy worked in private practice as a partner at Bulkley, Richardson & Gelinas, LLP, the largest law firm in Western Massachusetts, and at Allison, Angier and Bartmon, LLP, a small firm in Amherst, Massachusetts. She had previously served as Chief of the Domestic Violence Prosecution Unit for the Northwestern District Attorney’s office in Massachusetts, where she prosecuted marital rape, child sexual abuse, domestic abuse and other crimes while supervising attorneys and engaging in community education and outreach. For ten years she volunteered as a board member, including as President, for the New England Learning Center for Women in Transition. In addition to many other community activities, Sandy served as a Trustee for Greenfield Community College and as a Distribution Member of the Western Massachusetts Community Foundation. She is a graduate of Greenfield Community College, Amherst College and Yale Law School, where she was senior editor of the Yale Law Journal.

Opening Remarks and Discussion 

Sandra Staub:
I was born in CT, grew up in East Lyme, and when I read the New Jim Crow it resonated for me. When the war on drugs was beginning in the 70s I didn't see it in East Lyme,-primarily a white town, lots of drugs and adolescent misbehavior, I wasn't immune, but I have no criminal record. I am white and grew up poor, in my community there was no rollout on the war on drugs. I wasn't assumed to be a criminal. The militarization of police wasn't seen. But if you changed the demographics by three points-if I was born male, black and in New Haven-the odds would have been against me. I would be living in Enfield.

In the 80s, I was a prosecutor, I was a domestic violence prosecutor, but I learned in the courts about drug prosecution. I saw people come into the criminal justice system, leave, and then come back and when you come back the punishments are tougher. I didn't know any better as a prosecutor, I didn't recognize the color line. Now you go to the 90s and 2000s, I moved back to CT and back to East Lyme. I still saw no rollout of the drug war in East Lyme, no police officers in sight. These kids are not getting charged because they're white. When I go to talk to schools, in Hartford, in New Haven, I run the gauntlet with police cars and security systems. And when I go to these schools the questions the students ask me are-can the police arrest me for a cell phone violation? The reality is if you look at the statistics these kids are getting arrested for school policy violations and it puts them on the school- to- prison pipeline. We know it [arrests in schools] is a racist policy implemented by our state. But we know that there are no-cost or low cost ways to change this.

First, is passing something called the Memorandum of Understanding. The Memorandum of Understanding creates an agreement between police officers and the schools they are in. With schools that have the MOU, we know arrests go down and the disparities between those getting arrested dissipate as well. This bill has gone to the legislature and not been passed twice. It is an action item- it will get passed and will make a difference. The Memorandum of Understanding is an agreement between police officer and school that arrest is not the first thing. Zero tolerance policy is not the policy.

Abby Anderson- Executive Director of the CT Juvenile Justice Alliance:
After Sandy Hook, people said more police in school. I don’t want to be insensitive, but school shootings are extraordinarily rare. There is a perception that police are in schools to protect the school from the outside, but what happens is police, who are trained to police, end up policing the schools. It’s not fair to put police in schools without proper agreement-they are not social workers, they are not counselors, they are police officers and they will police.

With the MOU, at least the police in school have roles in place. The agreement includes graduated sanctions of what police should do. For example, if a teenager is smoking a cigarette we do x. A positive side of it not passing is we get to talk about it every year. They know people are watching and as a result schools/police are changing what they do.

Senator Gary Holder-Winfield- 10th District (New Haven & West Haven):
Sometimes people do not know that with police in schools, schools can give over discipline to the police. Some people think the police are doing something positive.

Representative. Walker:
No one wants to reduce public safety, so reluctant to question police presence in schools.

Audience question:
If this MOU law is accepted by your school, what does it require?

MOU law only says schools and police have to talk about what the role of the police officer will be.

Audience question:
Is it mandatory for every CT school to have an officer?

Rep. Walker:

Representative Douglas McCrory-7th Assembly District:

I have been a school administrator and every time there is a fight, the students involve get arrested. The responsibilities should be with me as an administrator, but they often fall to police.

Rep. Walker:
I was an Assistant Principal for adult education. Our resource officer does a good job, not turning to arrest first.

In my [current] school, we have a lot of territorial issues- if a child comes to school, and a weapon is found, automatically arrested. Sometimes students will bring box cutters to school and leave them by the bushes, because they need them to feel safe while walking home.

My dad was a Minister, I was born in Oklahoma, then moved to Greensboro, but we moved north because the KKK burned crosses in yard. All my life though, I've been in an environment where people were going to help each other.

I ran an art program in New Haven, often times we would have kids who were deemed “the problem kids”, and they did great, because no one judged them.

We have to think about how laws impact our kids. Most of the kids I worked with grew up in rough situations and that’s how I learned more about how laws are impacting certain children.

For example, I found that 16 is the age in which a child could be tried as an adult. 16 year olds are not adults. The mind is not fully developed-they do things that are normal for 16 year olds, but we criminalize them.

Abigail at the Juvenile Justice Alliance, has been one of my main partners; this is a civil rights fight for our children. We should all fight and all understand. The question is “How do we get people to understand the impact?”

When we were fighting to “raise the age” [of when you can be tried as an adult] we had to take color out of the issue. We needed people from Westport, Stamford, and Guilford- wanted them to take the blinders out and we wanted to talk about all of our children. As long as we all understand that children are children. We had people [supporters] show up to the LOB [Legislative Office Building] with orange t-shirts on. We just came to make a statement. Prior to this, when we were discussing a bill on foster care, we had all foster care children come up with suitcases-you have to do visuals-get people to notice.

Audience question:
What are the schools and the towns that have highest expulsion rate in CT?

Rep. Walker and Rep. McCrory:
Suspension/Expulsion rates by school type:
Elementary school
Public Charter schools: 14.2%
Ed-reform: 7.7%
Non Ed-reform alliance: 2.5%
All other-districts: 0.9%

High School
Public Charter schools: 18.5%
Ed-reform: 29.8%
CT Technical High schools: 25.4%
State school districts: 6.2%

Rep. McCrory:
In elementary school, K through 8, many states start identifying students who are not reading at grade level by third grade, and that's a predictor of how many beds you'll need [at incarceration facilities] down the road. 80% can't read at grade level. We do put money in. Every dollar you put in 80 percent goes into teacher salary. We can’t just to give more money to school district that is failing. We have to be specific about what you're advocating-add targeted dollars.

Rep. Walker:
Part of the problem is we have failed at training our teachers. We have the same requirements still for education, the courses that teachers take have not really changed-most have not gotten trained in how to manage a classroom. When I contacted my board [of the school], I asked do you have a program to train teachers in classroom management. We developed our own training program. Want teachers to walk around the classroom. I got rid of desks. I lean red from my father- as a minister he infused drama into his ministry- need to engage students. Some teachers left, but the ones that stayed are incredible teachers.

Audience comment:
I get a little nervous talking about education without socioeconomic contexts. Last week, there was a presentation on The Children in Room E4, where we learned how Hartford was deliberately segregated. You can’t change it all with methodology or teachers.

Audience comment:
I am a teacher trainer, and we train our teachers with what you are talking. If a teacher has 25 students and 18 are special needs, it is impossible for this teacher to do her job. It isn’t just about teachers being trained, because they are. It is a combination of factors.

Audience question:
I wonder if you could take some about parents, participation in schools…

Rep. McCrory:
Often there is a systemic, generational failure. If parents were not successful in that particular school, parents can't advocate for kids. No parents want their children to fail. Let me tell you something, most schools don't want the parents there. As educators, we don't like it- what they [parents] ask. We can't change parents, but we can change schools.

We live in a pretty segregated state. I was at an event at Yale Law School, and an investment banker sitting next time commented that perhaps we have segregation due to single mothers. [Laughs] But even if a kid has a single parent, if he’s a person of color and getting stopped while driving his car, if he’s in school and getting searched, that’s not bad parenting, that’s racism. We can’t take race out of the issue.

Sen. Holder-Winfield
Sometimes we assume that if parents aren’t doing what we would do, they are not doing anything. My mother was a single mother, and never came to my school- but she made sure I always had my work done. There are different ways to stay involved.

Rep. Walker
A lot of the families, don't have a lot of flexibility in their day, to be involved in schools. If you are earning $10 an hour, working several jobs you do not have that flexibility to be there.

Rep. McCrory
There’s a term we lost in American culture and that is segregation, specifically housing segregation. We think how do certain communities become impoverished- how do they get that way? If you live in these communities, over time you think you are not good enough-this idea becomes ingrained in you. I started reading American Apartheid, a book that explains how cities became segregated and how the problems still persist today.

Audience comment:
A lot of these comments we've heard before, we just don’t see enough outrage. I absolutely don't think it's just teachers, parents fault. In most developed countries, children are protected by constitution. Now we have to protect our children, nurture our children, and protect them in our constitution.

The second action item, the sentencing commission recommendation, addresses parts of children's rights. Several years ago, the Supreme Court decided children should not be given life without parole without a second look.

88% of these people behind bars who are doing sentences of 10 years or more that were sentenced are people of color-we can’t take race out of the equation.

This has been a really Debbie Downer conversation, but we have done a lot. In 2006 we had much bigger juvenile justice system then we do now. We have worked really hard to not automatically go to arrest for students. We have looked at diversion. Young people in the system now they are 16 or 17, not 13 or 14.

We need to have a multi systemic approach. So we can help the kid understand what they did wrong and how they can do things differently next time. CT is actually held up nationally as a state that has made reforms.

And over the question of when to use race, when not to-Of course it's about race, but when do you lead with that or when do you not?

We brought The Color of Justice [short film]on PBS around the state and talked to over 2000 people about things like implicit bias. We did workshops, trainings where we were talking about race.

It would be a lot easier, if there was a guy behind a curtain making racist decisions, but there isn’t. So how do we raise awareness about implicit bias, about things that are built into our systems?

Rep. Walker:
We need to show up when the bill is up for debate to share personal stories. One person cannot keep a bill in a committee- it is not true. It's about telling stories. If you have the political will to pass a bill you can do it. It only takes a few calls. It is about voices; you have to speak up.

Inspiration to Action 
-Promote Memorandum of Understanding Legislation 
-Be specific about what you are advocating for. Know where your money goes- targeted dollars 
-Work to help better train teachers on classroom management 
-Think differently-drama classes for teachers, no desks, be with the kids 
-Educate yourself on the school to prison pipeline 
-Talk about segregation- read “American Apartheid” 
-Get outraged, make change 
-Work to change legislation on recommended sentencing for children 
-Talk to your legislators-tell them you want change on specific issues 
-Volunteer with CT Juvenile Justice Alliance as an advocate 
-Speak up! Call you legislators 

What are your thoughts on the current state of juvenile justice? What can be done to create a more just system? How do we mobilize people to take action? Sound off in the comments! 

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