The Tampa Racial Equity Coalition (TREC) hosted a panel discussion, "Understanding the School to Prison Pipeline" on Saturday, March 16, 2013. TREC's Education Action Team chair, Maressa Dixon kicked off the discussion then introduced the moderator, Mr. Otis Anthony of WMNF 88.5 FM. The panel of experts consisted of Louis Brinson, Assistant Superintendent of Administration; Yvette Acosta MacMillan, Esq., Staff Attorney of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Florida; Dr. Carolyn Collins, President of the Hillsborough County Branch of the NAACP; Jason Sinocruz, Esq., Staff Attorney of The Advancement Project; Ahmad Abuznaid, Esq., Legal Counsel for Dream Defenders; and Dr. Judith Scully, Professor of Law at Stetson University.
One purpose of this panel discussion was to create an awareness of the School to Prison Pipeline that exists in Hillsborough County as well as the urgency to implement solutions to this growing issue. In addition, Hillsborough County is among the leaders of the School to Prison Pipeline in the United States and the State of Florida is number one in the nation in school-based arrests. Moreover, through this forum, the TREC Education Action Team desired to emphasize the need for youth to become productive members of society instead of a burden through the prison system.
Each panelist provided information and vital statistics that supports the need for action and community involvement to correct this issue. One key piece of information introduced was the “zero tolerance” policies that have been implemented in the schools since the 1990s and how these policies are one of the main drivers of law enforcement student referrals. Panelists discussed how law enforcement had been called to intervene in numerous school disturbances when law enforcement intervention was not warranted. Subjectivity of student behavior was also another cause of teacher and administrative referrals which led to out of school suspension. Students accumulating excessive referrals and suspensions adds fuel to this prison pipeline. The audience members where introduced to startling statistics pertaining to our youth:
• Eighty-three percent of the youth that are arrested had at least one previous out of school suspension;
• Seventy-five percent of our youth are being re-arrested after being released from jail or detention centers.
The discussion concluded with possible solutions to the prison pipeline such as the development of a concrete action plan with deadlines attached to the plan. Some suggested that elements of this action plan should be the partnering of major entities such as the Hillsborough County School District with the community and community organizations to develop effective interventions for these youth. Another fact that was agreed upon from the panelist, TREC committee members, and the audience is the need for the people in the communities to come together and work to resolve this issue. Individuals seeking to get involved are encouraged to attend the next Education Action Team meeting. This meeting will be held on Saturday, April 20, 2013 at 3:00pm at the North Tampa Public Library located on the corner of Busch Boulevard and North Boulevard.