Promoting Alternatives to Police in Schools: Addressing the School to Prison Pipeline with GVP-RIG

On Tuesday, October 6, 2020, UConn’s InCHIP Gun Violence Prevention Research Interest Group (GVP-RIG) organized a panel on S. 4360: Counseling Not Criminalization Act. The panel entitled “Promoting Alternatives to Police in Schools: Addressing the School to Prison Pipeline” featured a variety of speakers who gathered virtually in front of over three hundred participants. Below is a brief recap of the panel, with some helpful links at the bottom to access the event and a transcript.

Opening Remarks with President Thomas C. Katsouleas

The panel was “… a terrific demonstration of UConn’s role in bringing together scholars, policymakers and practitioners in responding to critical social challenges,” said UConn President Thomas C. Katsouleas in his opening remarks. The focus of the panel, as Katsouleas noted, was on how “…social and emotional learning can better serve schools than a focus on punitive law enforcement focus discipline.”

S. 4360 with Senator Murphy

Senator Chris Murphy kicked off the panel with a story from his wife Cathy who is an attorney that works on school change on a national basis. He told a story of a student who was arrested for an argument in a high school hallway after continually leaving class. The student left the classroom because they had a learning disability, and what would normally be considered an ordinary misbehavior resulted in an arrest. This is one example of a negative interaction that could have led to prison time that the Senator notes is “…often connected to their disabilities or childhood traumas that they have experienced.” He also noted that, “Whether we intend to do this or not, loading our schools up with police officers ends up targeting children of color. Often for misbehaviors that should never, ever result in a criminal offense.” After a survey of New Haven schools, it was found that those with school resource officers (SROs) had higher rates of delinquent behaviors than those without.

In July, Senator Murphy sponsored S. 4360: Counseling Not Criminalization in Schools Act which proposed to:

  1. Divert federal funding away from supporting the presence of police in schools and toward evidence-based services that address the needs of marginalized students and improve academic outcomes; and
  2. Support local education agencies that want to terminate their contracts with local law enforcement agencies and invest public funding in personnel and services that create safe and inclusive schools for all students.

Senator Murphy hopes this legislation will stimulate conversation all around the country about alternatives to SROs.

The Panelists

Steven Hernández, Esq. is the Executive Director for the Commission on Women, Children and Seniors. Mr. Hernández noted the importance of resources and funding priorities. For students, he emphasized a need to provide support for traumatic and emotional experiences, a need for students to see themselves in their role models, and an emphasis on literacy when it comes to students accessing their education. Schools, Mr. Hernández noted, are a “microcosm of the community” that reveal information about important relationships about people, power and policing. In under-resourced districts running a deficit, policing infrastructures and SROs transition schools from a “…a place you go to be safe, to a place where you go to be watched”. In turn he recommended that police are only called when needed, instead of being at the school already.

Leonard Jahad is the Executive Director of Connecticut Victim Intervention Program. Throughout his remarks, Jahad emphasized the importance of relationship building and the capacity to do so. He noted the importance of identifying factors that could be a barrier to a student’s educational access ranging from hunger, to not having clean shoes. By building relationships and creating bonds, administrators and staff can connect with their students. Jahad’s experiences as the former head of adult probation in the New Haven area has impacted his approach. Continually he emphasized being a resource that folks can rely, which will in turn create a system of accountability and support. Moderator Dr. Sandra Chafouleas, Board of Trustees Distinguished Professor, Dept. of Educational Psychology, Neag School of Education, and Director of the Collaboratory on School and Child Health, noted that once basic needs are addressed, students can build on a sense of belonging and build relationships towards success.

Dr. Aaron Kupchik is a Professor of Sociology and Criminal Justice at the University of Delaware. Dr. Kupchik addressed the data and how it shows that SROs have either no impact, or that their presence shows an increase in student punishment. The data also shows that the trusted adults are not typically SROs. Empathy training was something Dr. Kupchik encouraged alongside tutoring and mentorship. In terms of policing within schools, Dr. Kupchik raised the idea of police liaisons, and the concept of having familiarity with law enforcement and first responders, but that law enforcement at schools should not be a daily presence.

Closing Remarks with Provost and Executive Vice President Carl W. Lejuez

Provost Lejuez concluded the event with a brief summary of the points presented. Mr. Hernández, he noted, talked about the importance of collaboration. Jahad emphasized building relationships and trust, and the importance of cognitive behavioral therapy approaches. Dr. Kupchik addressed the importance of having trusted adults and fostering empathy.

The takeaway that stuck with many after the event was when Mr. Hernández stated that when teachers say, “my only responsibility is teaching,” it should not be a negative reflection on the teacher, but rather a sign of a lack of support. Moving forward we must support one another and think beyond our administrative roles.


More Info:

Mary Bernstein, Jennifer Dineen, and Kerri Raissian, co-Directors of the Gun Violence Prevention Research Interest Group (GVP-RIG) of the Institute for Collaboration on Health, Intervention, and Policy (InCHIP), the Departments of Sociology and Public Policy, the Collaboratory on Child and School Health (CSCH), the Connecticut Chapter of the Scholars Strategy Network, the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences (CLAS), UConn Hartford, and Sustainable Global Cities Initiative (SGCI).

This panel builds on UConn’s commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion.  In particular, GVP-RIG wanted to bring your attention to an October 2020 policy brief by UConn’s Collaboratory on School and Child Health, which explores alternatives to the related topic of exclusionary school discipline.

A recording and transcription of the panel can be found on TotalWebcasting, along with an event program, information about the speakers, and flyer on S. 4360. Visit the GVP-RIG website for updates and register with GVP-RIG to receive information about future events or join the group as an affiliate.

Posted by Kish, Lian in News