Students with disciplinary problems often find themselves sooner or later in trouble with the law. According to Nubia Peña, J.D., Program Coordinator at Racially Just Utah, the Beehive State is not immune to the school-to-prison pipeline.
“Most people think it only occurs in urban cities but based on the demographics of children of color, children with disabilities, homeless youth, and children that exist in vulnerable intersections—these are the children that are being pushed out schools disproportionately through harsh discipline practices,” she said. “Children with disabilities are some of our most vulnerable populations because they highly depend, not only on the individuals in the classroom, but on people to advocate for their rights in ways that they cannot advocate for themselves.”
African-American students are three times more likely to face disciplinary action at school in Utah than their white classmates. Latino students are more likely to receive disciplinary action as well.
In an effort to keep students out of trouble and divert them from run-ins with law enforcement, some school districts are looking for alternatives. Kayley Richards, Program Director at the Salt Lake Peer Court, which partners with the Salt Lake City School District, said that restorative justice tactics used by peer courts connect at-risk students with community resources.
“Students that get in trouble at school for lower-level offenses, instead of being sent to juvenile court for these minor offenses, they can be diverted to peer court instead,” she said. “We follow the restorative justice principles and practices as kind of three-pronged accountability, community connection and involvement, and skill development. Students can come to peer court instead where they’re heard by a panel of high school volunteers who have been trained to process the cases.”
68 percent of males in state and federal prison lack a high school diploma.