Tackling Texas’ School-to-Prison Pipeline: A Closer Look at Senate Bill 393
This year, the State legislature decided to tackle one of the most alarming developments in Texas public schools: the so-called, school to prison pipeline. The term describes a trend in schools all over the state in which students are charged with criminal offenses for behavioral issues that could be dealt with outside of the juvenile court system. In many cases, a student’s involvement with the court system at an early age is a significant indicator of whether that student will drop out of school or be incarcerated as an adult. Even more alarming is that the school to prison pipeline tends to disproportionately affect minority students. For example, a 2010 study by the non-profit group Texas Appleseed found that African American and Hispanic male students accounted for 83 and 74 percent, respectively, of discretionary disciplinary violations that led to having some contact with the juvenile justice system.
Senate Bill 393, authored by State Senator Royce West (D) of Dallas, aimed to be the bold move by the State Legislature to address the problem by changing the way that schools and juvenile defendants accused of low-level Class C misdemeanors interact with the justice system. Under the bill, some juvenile defendants with no prior offenses are given the opportunity to perform community service or receive tutoring as alternatives to paying court-related costs or fines. Additionally, schools and local probation officers are given the chance to intervene with potential juvenile defendants as well as defendants who are already involved in the system. Similar to pretrial diversion programs, this would give defendants and counselors an opportunity to focus on the root causes of misconduct.
Focus on Education, Not Punishment
One of the most notable aspects of the legislation is a provision that prohibits schools from issuing citations to students for purely behavioral misconduct. Instead, schools are given the option of developing systems of sanctions to warn students about their misconduct before receiving a formal citation. Sanctions might include sending a warning letter to the student’s parents or requiring the student to perform community service. If a school fails to adopt a sanctions system and issues a citation without first providing warnings, they risk having a court dismiss the citation altogether. Overall, the bill aims to give schools,students, and counselors the opportunity to address behavioral problems without the involvement of juvenile courts.
SB 393 was signed into law by Governor Perry and went into effect on September 1. It is very clear that this bill is a good step in the right direction. The bill has the potential to answer Wallace Jefferson’s call “to develop disciplinary systems that address misbehavior in our schools” and “decrease students’ exposure to the court system.” This law requires schools to take a different approach to discipline, one that discourages using courts as a first resort.
At The Law Office of Guillermo Lara Jr. we know our children are important to us.When facing juvenile legal problems, you need a criminal law attorney that understands the juvenile justice system. Guillermo Lara Jr, understands the juvenile justice system and dedicated an entire year to defending and helping young juveniles in San Antonio, Texas. If you or anyone you know needs legal advice, call us at 210-201-7599 OR 210-209-8143. WE CAN HELP!
The full text of SB 393 is available at: http://www.capitol.state.tx.us/tlodocs/83R/billtext/pdf/SB00393F.pdf
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