Earlier this month, our team was humbled when the Hero story was featured in the keynote program at the Marketo Marketing Nation Summit 2015. At the end of the first day’s keynote, John Legend also spoke, sharing an inspirational story about the work that he’s doing to create positive social change, building a foundation that is taking on mass incarceration and the school-to-prison pipeline by generating awareness about these issues, and bringing attention to important legislative efforts like California’s Proposition 47.

John Legend

In his talk, John announced that his foundation, the Show Me Campaign, has just launched a new project called #FREEAMERICA to dramatically reduce rates of mass incarceration and to reverse the school-to-prison pipeline. This project is a major piece of advocacy that will help shine a light on one of the most important issues in education reform: the school-to-prison pipeline.

In the simplest sense, the school-to-prison pipeline works like this:

  • Schools strapped for resources struggle to meet educational and disciplinary needs of students.
  • Zero tolerance policies rely on suspension, arrests and other police involvement to handle minor disciplinary issues in schools.
  • Students are also indirectly pushed into the criminal justice system by policies that seek to remove them from school because of the impact on high stakes testing.

Effectively, the pipeline thrives on the criminalization of school discipline issues through policies like zero tolerance. This shift in school discipline is exacerbated by the fact that schools that serve at-risk populations are often resource-starved, and meet their support needs by employing school resource officers, who are often inexperienced at working with youth and can escalate even minor discipline issues into school-based arrests. Education Lab (along with the Seattle Times) did some impressive research on minor discipline issues resulting in out-of-school suspension. Our belief, like theirs, is that early intervention and alternative consequences (detention, in-school suspension, saturday school, etc.) would curb a good deal of suspensions.

Once a student finds themselves engaged in the juvenile justice system, it becomes increasingly difficult for them to reintegrate into traditional schools. In addition the resources that they do have access to often provide inadequate educational services.

In addition, students of color are disproportionately affected by some disciplinary policies, and are more likely to be suspended for the same behavior as their white peers. Given that students in California were found to be twice as likely to drop out after more than one suspension, the impact that such policies have on teen delinquency is clear.

It’s exceptional to see the Show Me Campaign address the school-to-prison pipeline through #FREEAMERICA. The American public is largely unaware of this issue, and even more unaware of the grave consequences of leaving it unaddressed.

In addition to supporting the message of groups working to change policy at the district and state levels, Hero believes that reversing the school to prison pipeline can start at the school level. Discipline reform programs like PBIS, Restorative Justice practices, and early intervention strategies are more effective than zero tolerance policies that are in place all around the country.

To lend your voice to #FREEAMERICA, click here to tweet your own message.