Fighting Zero-Tolerance in a North Carolina County…Why States Turn to Private Prisons…Foster Kids’ Need for Consistent Education…and Disney Cuts $$ to Boy Scouts Citing Anti-Gay PolicyMarch 3rd, 2014 by Taylor Walker
“MISSION CRITICAL” DOCUMENTARY FOLLOWS KIDS BEING PUSHED THROUGH THE SCHOOL-TO-PRISON-PIPELINE
In the nationwide push to end the school to prison pipeline, many school districts are turning away from harmful zero-tolerance discipline practices (LAUSD included). Last week, President Obama launched an important initiative to keep kids of color in school and out of the justice system, but there is still much work to be done.
A new documentary produced by Advocates for Children’s Services (a project of Legal Aid of North Carolina) looks at the battle raging in Wake County, North Carolina, where 10% of kids were suspended during the 2011-12 year.
The Juvenile Justice Information Exchange has more on the documentary (which can be watched in its entirety in the above video). Here’s a clip:
The lawyers and staff of the organization bought a $200 camera and over 18 months shot raw interviews of parents and students who’ve been affected by the pipeline. After piecing it together, “Mission Critical: Ending the School-to-Prison Pipeline in Wake County” was released last week at a community screening.
“We really wanted to humanize and personalize what really is a civil rights crisis in our community,” said Jason Langberg, supervising attorney at the Advocates for Children’s Services and one of the film’s directors.
Wake County Public Schools has one the biggest school-to-prison pipelines in the nation, Langberg said. During the 2011-2012 school year, the district gave out 14,223 short-term suspensions and 403 long-term suspensions. The figure amounts to one suspension given for every 10 students, according to a report by Advocates for Children’s Services.
PRIVATE PRISONS: EXTRA SPACE FOR STATES WITH OVERCROWDING PROBLEMS, BUT IS IT WORTH IT?
For-profit prison companies like the Corrections Corporation of America claim to save states money, but often have less than desirable track records, and employ lock-up quotas. (WLA previously pointed to CCA’s run-in with contempt of court in Idaho.)
Politico’s Matt Stroud takes a closer look at why states, including California, (and even the feds) enter into contract with private prisons. Here’s a clip:
In October, when California Governor Jerry Brown signed a new contract with Corrections Corporation of America, a Nashville-based private prison behemoth, onlookers might’ve wondered if he’d been following the news.
The same could be asked of Wall Street in general. Over the last five years, CCA’s stock price has increased by more than 200 percent and earlier this month Jim Cramer’s investment website The Street praised the company’s “strengths” on Wall Street, enthusiastically rating its stock a “buy.”
As inmate populations have soared over the last 30 years, private prisons have emerged as an appealing solution to cash-starved states. Privately run prisons are cheaper and can be set up much faster than those run by the government. Nearly a tenth of all U.S. prisoners are housed in private prisons, as are almost two-thirds of immigrants in detention centers—and the companies that run them have cashed in. CCA, the oldest and largest modern private prison company, took over its first facility in 1983. Now it’s a Wall Street darling with a market cap of nearly $3.8 billion. Similarly, GEO Group, the second largest private-prison operator, last week reported $1.52 billion in revenue for 2013, its most ever and more than a hundredfold increase since the company went public ten years ago.
But while privatizing prisons may appear at first glance like yet another example of how the free market beats the public sector, one need only look at CCA’s record in Idaho to wonder whether outsourcing this particular government function is such a good idea.
Yet companies such as CCA continue to get contracts—and Congress has been one of the industry’s benefactors. A 2009 change to the Department of Homeland Security’s federal spending bill requires officials to keep 34,000 people in federal immigration detention centers operated by private prison companies. The federal Bureau of Prisons, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the U.S. Marshalls Service all contract with private prison companies.
Leonard Gilroy was happy to offer an explanation.
Gilroy is director of government reform at the libertarian Reason Foundation, which advocates for market-based solutions to government problems and has also received financial support from both CCA and the GEO Group. He explains the lure of private prisons as a simple matter of cost and convenience: “It costs a lot of money to open a prison,” he says. “And to have it fully ready, you need a full contingent of staff, you need to set that staff up with health care, arrange for maintenance workers, provide food and utilities. And that’s a big order, particularly if you’re in a rush.” Private prisons can fill that rush order, he says.
A rush is exactly what Jerry Brown has faced in California…
Steve Owen, the senior director of public affairs for CCA wrote a lengthy reply to Stroud’s Politico story. Owen says that Stroud only focused on the company’s problem areas, or “challenges,” and says there are many positive things CCA is doing for states and inmates. Here’s a clip:
The opinion writer opens his piece with ill-informed commentary about CCA’s relationship with California. In fact, there is perhaps no better example of the important role we can play in addressing corrections challenges. The difficulties the state has faced with overcrowded facilities are well documented, and for more than seven years, CCA has provided an important relief valve to help them manage their inmate population. Our facilities and professional staff have alleviated unsafe conditions and created opportunities for offenders to access a wide range of programs that prepare them to re-enter their communities once their time is served. The most recent iteration of our partnership is an innovative agreement that allows California to lease needed space from our company and staff the facility with public employees.
Additionally, the tools we are providing to help manage this difficult situation are being delivered at a significant cost savings. Overall, economists from Temple University, in an independent study receiving a partial grant from our industry, analyzed state government data and found companies like ours save 12 percent to 58 percent in long-term taxpayer costs.
The opinion piece moves on from California to cherry-pick stories of incidents that portray our company and industry through a lens that is not only incomplete but also often factually inaccurate and disingenuous. It is an unfortunate reality that no corrections system—public or private—is immune to challenges. That doesn’t mean we aren’t working each and every day to address concerns head on and learn from our mistakes, as we have recently in Idaho…
And here’s what Owen has to say about those pesky lock-up quotas:
I also want to address the issue of minimum-occupancy guarantees. Fewer than half of our contracts have them, and those that do contain explicit provisions allowing our government partners to terminate the agreement in a short period of time if the capacity is no longer needed. The idea that somehow our partners are locked into space they aren’t using is grounded more in politics than in fact…
FOSTER KIDS WHO REPEATEDLY CHANGE HOUSES AND SCHOOLS LOSE MONTHS OF EDUCATION, LESS LIKELY TO GRADUATE
The Atlantic’s Jessica Lahey has a worthwhile story about how frequent uprooting and instability in a foster kid’s life create significant gaps in learning and reduce their likelihood of graduating high school. Here are some clips (but do go read the rest):
When 12-year-old Jimmy Wayne’s parents dropped him off at a motel and drove away, he became the newest member of the North Carolina Foster Care system. Over the next two years in the foster care system, he attended 12 different schools.
“I don’t even remember what I learned—no, let me rephrase that—I don’t remember what they tried to teach me—after fifth grade,” he told me recently. “It wasn’t until I had a stable home and was taken in by a loving family in tenth grade that I was able to hear anything, to learn anything. Before that, I wasn’t thinking about science, I was thinking about what I was going to eat that day or where I could get clothes. When I was finally in one place for a while, going to the same school, everything changed. Even my handwriting improved. I could focus. I was finally able to learn.”
Students in foster care move schools at least once or twice a year, and by the time they age out of the system, over one third will have experienced five or more school moves. Children are estimated to lose four to six months of academic progress per move, which puts most foster care children years behind their peers. Falling behind isn’t the only problem with frequent school moves: School transfers also decrease the chances a foster care student will ever graduate from high school.
Kate Burdick, an attorney and Equal Justice Works Fellow with the Juvenile Law Center, shared the changes she’d make that would greatly improve the chances that children in foster care get the educational stability they need:
Schools must ensure school stability for children in foster care by requiring schools to be flexible around residency requirements in order to allow children to remain in the same school or district, and provide the supports to make that stability happen, such as reliable transportation and dedicated adult liaisons who can provide academic support.
Promote greater collaboration between child welfare agencies and schools in order to ensure that foster children’s particular educational needs are being met.
Collect tracking data on educational progress and outcomes, including attendance, school moves, enrollment delays and academic outcomes in order to reveal where policies and practices could be improved.
DISNEY TO STOP GIVING MONEY TO BOY SCOUTS OF AMERICA OVER ANTI-GAY POLICY
The Walt Disney Company is cutting funding to the Boy Scouts of America starting in 2015 because of its policy banning gay scout leaders.
The AP has the story. Here’s a small clip:
The Boy Scouts organization is “disappointed” by the decision, which will affect the organization’s ability to serve children, Deron Smith, a Boy Scouts spokesman, said in a statement Sunday. Disney does not provide direct funding to the Boy Scouts, but it donates money to some troops in exchange for volunteer hours completed by Disney employees, he said.
The memo was posted on the website of Scouts for Equality, an organization that is critical of the Boy Scouts’ policy to ban adult gay troop leaders.
Last week corporate giants like Delta, Marriott, American Airlines, and Apple threatened to move outside of Arizona if Gov. Jan Brewer did not veto legislation that would have let businesses refuse service to LGBT customers based on religious beliefs. (Bloomberg’s Thomas Black and Jennifer Oldham have that story.)
It’s heartening to see these two instances of corporate America standing up for LGBT equality.