Salt Lake City, UT

Prison Among Youth in Utah Was The Topic of a Panel Discussion

S. F. Mori

It was a presentation on ZOOM

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Panelists (from computer ZOOM meeting)(Image is author's)

A virtual panel discussion was held in Salt Lake City. The subject was: Diplomas Not Defendants: Breaking the School to Prison Pipeline in Utah Schools.

The moderator of the panel was Rosie Nguyen of ABC4 News. She has been very involved with social justice issues for years. She has been a news anchor and just announced some new developments in her work and life.

Rosie Nguyen is an award-winning journalist who joined the ABC4 News team as a reporter in January 2018. In September 2020, she embarked on a new journey as the anchor for the CW30 News at 7 p.m. Although she’s not out in the field anymore, she is continuing her passion for social justice and community issues through the nightly “ In Focus ” discussions. [www.rosie.nguyen.com]
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Rosie Nguyen(Image from website rosienguyen.com

Panelists were: Mindy Holmdahl, Salt Lake City School District; Pam Vickney, Utah Juvenile Defender Attorneys; James Yapias, NAACP Education Chair, Salt Lake Branch; and Toya Reynolds.

The school to prison pipeline has been discussed in various parts of the United States since it has become a big problem. That is especially the case with minority populations such as Black and Indigenous young people.

In the United States, the school-to-prison pipeline, also known as the school-to-prison link, school-prison nexus, or the schoolhouse-to-jailhouse track, is the disproportionate tendency of minors and young adults from disadvantaged backgrounds to become incarcerated because of increasingly harsh school and municipal policies, as well as because of educational inequality in the United States. Many experts have credited factors such as school disturbance laws, zero tolerance policies and practices, and an increase in police in schools in creating the pipeline. This has become a hot topic of debate in discussions surrounding educational disciplinary policies as media coverage of youth violence and mass incarceration has grown during the early 21st century. [Wikipedia]

The distinguished panel discussed the problem in Utah schools as it relates to young people entering the court system. School discipline cases often lead to prison, according to the experts. They discussed how to get a pathway back to the classroom for these young offenders. They talked about why the rate of suspension from school is a larger issue among the minority races.

Although there has been work done in the area, they have not seen improvement in the disparity among people of color. The disparity seems to increase.

It was discussed that many young Black people have grown up around incarcerated people their whole lives. Their fathers, brothers, and friends have been to prison. It seems that they expect that it will be their fate in life. They may feel doomed as if there is no way out. They feel there is no way to escape and have little hope. That causes them to develop a rebellious nature.

The important thing to change the pipeline is for someone to care about them. They may need a mentor. One person can make all the difference in changing their life and putting them on the right track to avoid prison.

People who are working with the students (teachers, community leaders, parents) need to develop the skills to deal with their problems. Often parents are in need of the help because of problems in the home.

Training needs to be an ongoing process. It is necessary for leaders to not let their guard down. The young people will need constant nurturing.

The problem is a systemic issue which is affecting the social, emotional, and educational factors in the lives of these young people. They may suffer mental health problems as they encounter trials at school which could include suspensions and expulsion. The social stigma causes trauma for them.

Basic needs of young people need to be met. Homelessness, COVID, and lack of healthcare or food can cause them to stay in the pipeline and end up in prison. They need help from caring adults.

People who are in the middle or upper class of society and are not minorities may not realize that there is even a problem with a school to prison pipeline. It does not affect them personally, but they may know someone who was or will be affected by it.

The panel agreed that one positive adult mentor can make all the difference. It will take the community working together to stop that dangerous pipeline from school to prison which too many people may face. Young people can be helped to avoid prison if enough people will care by offering support and safeguards.

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I am a retired President/CEO of civil rights organizations. I have been a Mayor and California State Assemblyman as well as a College Instructor of Economics. I have also been an entrepreneur and international business consultant. I will be sharing articles mostly about life, politics, racism, travel, health, and relationships.

Salt Lake City, UT
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