The Delaware Department of Justice has proposed a bill, S.B. 207, intended to restrict the school-to-prison pipeline by giving schools more discretion over what misbehaviors must be reported to the police. The bill has garnered support from youth justice advocacy groups around the state, including the Delaware Center for Justice (DCJ), an NJJN member. In addition to its advocacy work, DCJ runs a school offense diversion program that works to address the causes of students’ misbehavior without involving them in the system.
“When you look at the data of the kids who get into our program, by and large the biggest referral is for misdemeanors. With the new bill, schools would have more power to determine whether or not those incidents need to be reported to law enforcement, or dealt with through the school system,” said Kirstin Cornnell of DCJ. “This is a good first step – we’re happy that our program exists, but of course it’s better if they never get to us in the first place.”
“The bill came out of the Attorney General’s office, which is wonderful,” said Cornnell. “We’ve had ongoing conversations with his office about reducing the school-to-prison pipeline, so it was really great to see something we could both be on board with and collaborate on.”
“The one thing we’re concerned about,” said Cornnell, “is that when schools get this kind of discretion, there can be a wide variance between schools of how much is reported. We do have concerns about schools using that discretion disproportionately, so we could go further to regulate that.”
S.B. 207 is expected to be heard by the judiciary committee in the coming week.
Meanwhile, another Delaware bill, H.B. 211, which was recently unanimously passed out of the judiciary committee, aims to end the indiscriminate shackling of youth in Delaware’s courts. DCJ has been working with other youth justice advocates across the state to strategize and conduct outreach on behalf of the bill. “This came out of a collaborative effort with a number of people working on youth justice issues in the state,” said Cornnell. “It’s a good first step to changing the culture of how we treat youth in the justice system. The original intent of the youth justice system was much more rehabilitative than it is today. Ending the practice of shackling takes into account the youth of the defendant, and it restores some dignity.”
For Cornnell, ending the indiscriminate shackling of youth goes beyond the benefits of ending a practice that has been shown to traumatize youth and bias the courts. “It’s symbolic to end shackling,” she said. “It’s a step toward a judicial process that treats kids more fairly by restoring to them some of the same rights afforded to adults. Shackling has terrible implications for the outcomes of the cases and consequently youth development. So ending it is a first step, but an important one.”
H.B. 211 passed out of the judiciary committee unanimously. Its House hearing has not yet been scheduled.
Photo: Flickr user NCM3.