“Dads on Duty” and Breaking the School-to-Prison Pipeline
Over the past few weeks, 23 students were arrested for violence at Southwood High School in Shreveport, Louisiana, causing students to be suspended and expelled. To address it before violence escalated, a group of dads gathered to create Dads on Duty. Each day, they take shifts to spend time on the school campus, greeting students and boosting morale. Since the program started, there hasn’t been a single incident (CBS News).
Dads on Duty is a powerful, community-oriented response to the relationship between the education system and the criminal justice system, referred to as the “school-to-prison pipeline.” The school-to-prison pipeline is rooted in harsh and often racially biased punishment of students in school. From suspensions and suspensions to on-campus arrests, these practices disrupt the learning experience, foster adverse health effects, and introduce students to the criminal justice system – which can have irreversible results.
• Consider: what community infrastructure outside local law enforcement helps keep your community safe?
These practices were accelerated in the 1990s as schools adopted a “zero-tolerance policy” to prevent crime in the classroom. This initiative grew alongside growing fears of crime in communities across the U.S. (Vox). As a result, districts adopted policies that took drastic action against any form of disorderly conduct, even those that might not call for that level of escalation (Learning for Justice).
This led to a significant jump in expulsions and suspensions, particularly for Black youth. Black students are three times more likely to be suspended or expelled than white students, and 48% of preschool children suspended more than once are Black. Students with disabilities are also more likely to be suspended or expelled (Vox). School expulsions and suspensions are usually decided by the school administration, not law enforcement. But students are likely to experience the criminal justice system if they’re not in the classroom. When compounded with police intervention in school, it’s all the more likely these students will be criminalized.
This was also when more schools invested in “school resource officers,” or SROs, actual police stationed to work in schools. This gives law enforcement the ability to arrest students and send them to juvenile courts, directly introducing them to the criminal justice system. A study from 2009 found that schools with officers present had five times the amount of arrests for disorderly conduct than schools without them (Vox). And students with disabilities students make up 32 percent of youth in juvenile detention centers (Learning for Justice). The arrests at Southwood High School were led by an SRO, who even called for backup to handle disorder at the school (AP).
Beyond the impact of being arrested and/or incarcerated, exposure to police officers is proven to harm Black youth. A study from earlier this year indicates that increased police exposure is correlated with experiencing mental health issues like anxiety or depression and an increase in risky physical behaviors (JAMA). Participants of the Dads on Duty program noted the additional positive benefits of having dads on campus. For CBS News, a student mentioned that “they just make funny jokes like, ‘Oh, hey, your shoe is untied,’ but it’s really not untied,” bringing some good-old dad jokes into the day. Initiatives like this can reduce police presence on the campus entirely, not just avoiding arrests due to violence but minimizing the opportunity for negative interactions.
None of the dads have backgrounds in school counseling or criminal justice. They’re dads, and they’re doing their best to improve the school climate. This is one of many powerful examples of how communities can invest in their infrastructure to take care of each other instead of relying on the systems in place. Abolition takes both dismantling harmful systems and actively investing in other options. Consider how you can create positive changewhere you are.
• A group of fathers self-organized to create a community-driven response to violence on campus.
• The school-to-prison pipeline introduces students to the criminal justice system, affecting their mental health, academic potential, and livelihood.
• Community-driven alternatives to policing can help reduce our reliance on law enforcement.