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Addressing Massive Disproportionality in Youth Arrests Should Not Be Option

Dr Marcus Bright Headshot 213591 637e62cb81db6

I recently went to a car dealership because I could hear a roaring sound when I pressed on my brakes. I went to the same dealership where I had purchased my car some time back because when I bought the car, I also bought a warranty that I assumed would cover major repairs. When the representative from the service department came back after inspecting my car, she had a list of recommended repairs that included a major revamp of the car’s braking system. She also informed me that the warranty company was not going to be covering any of it because it was classified as “wear and tear.” I said "ok" and that I would have them do some of the repairs, but that I would likely wait or go somewhere else to get the brake repairs done. I typically can go to more of a "Mom and Pop" type of shop to get the more costly work done at a lower price. The representative from the dealership called me back in and said that I would have to sign a waiver saying the car was unsafe to drive because the brakes were "metal to metal." "Metal to metal" describes brake pads that have worn through all of their friction material. This means that the metal backing of the pad rubs on the rotor, which is also made of metal. Brakes that reach this extreme are not only dangerous but also require extensive repair. That statement was a game changer for me because there was no way that I was driving off that lot with my four-year-old son in a car that had been deemed as unsafe. The statement brought with it “a fierce urgency of now” as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. famously said and getting the repairs done was no longer an option. I was going to make it happen no matter what. Dr. Marcus A. BrightDr. Marcus A. Bright

There are certain conditions in our lives and in our communities that we can no longer wait to change. All of the “padding” or tolerance for this issue has worn out, and it is "metal to metal."

One “metal to metal” issue is the disproportionate arrests of Black youth in communities across the nation. The data is well documented and deeply alarming. According to a report from The Sentencing Project, “Black youth are more than four times as likely to be detained or committed in juvenile facilities as their white peers.” It is essential to recognize that these numbers are not isolated incidents but rather part of a systemic pattern that fuels the school-to-prison pipeline.

This phenomenon goes beyond simple individual acts of law enforcement. It operates within a multi-system and cross-system framework, involving factors such as education, social services, community dynamics, and institutionalized biases. To effectively address this issue, we must acknowledge the complex web of interconnected systems that perpetuate and exacerbate the disproportionate arrests of Black youth.

The consequences of this unjust system are far-reaching. When young individuals are caught in the grips of the criminal justice system at an early age, the trajectory of their lives becomes compromised. Instead of nurturing their potential and providing pathways for success, we are funneling them into a cycle of recidivism and limited opportunities. This not only robs these youth of their future, but it also perpetuates the larger patterns of inequality and mass incarceration.

By implementing comprehensive reforms across multiple systems, we can redefine the trajectory of our youth’s lives, pave the way for a more equitable society, and disrupt the school-to-prison pipeline. 

The school-to-prison pipeline is a concerning trend that funnels students, particularly those in marginalized communities, from schools into the criminal justice system. I propose the following policies and strategies to disrupt this pipeline: 

Embed Mental Health Counseling into Early Intervention Programming

Early intervention is crucial for at-promise students to prevent behaviors that may lead to arrest and involvement in the criminal justice system. By embedding mental health counseling within early intervention programs, underlying mental health issues can be identified and addressed, reducing the likelihood of negative coping mechanisms or engagement in illegal activities. This requires policymakers to allocate resources for personnel, training, and infrastructure to meet the demand for mental health services. Investing in prevention rather than reactive measures, such as incarceration, yields long-term savings and improves overall well-being.

Require Trade Certifications in High Schools 

By requiring schools to offer trade certifications alongside traditional diplomas, students can gain practical skills and industry-recognized credentials, expanding their career readiness. To implement this policy effectively, it is crucial to collaborate with industry stakeholders and develop standardized certification programs. High schools should partner with local businesses, trade unions, and vocational training centers to create relevant curriculum frameworks. These partnerships will ensure that certifications align with current industry demands and are valued by employers. Offering a wide range of trade options, such as construction, automotive, and healthcare, will provide students with diverse choices for their future careers. 

Create a Universal Public Option for Early Learning 

To address the educational disparities that contribute to the school-to-prison pipeline, a universal publicly funded option for early learning is essential. By ensuring access to high-quality early education for all children, regardless of socioeconomic background, we can target the root causes of this pervasive issue. Investing in early learning has lifelong benefits for children, facilitating cognitive, social, and emotional development. It also helps to address inequities in the quality and availability of services by removing income thresholds that often leave families unable to access crucial educational resources. Collaboration with higher education institutions, incentives for educators, and standardized and aligned systems are necessary to facilitate this change.


Establish Permanent Criminal Justice Disparities Taskforces

Establishing Criminal Justice Disparities Taskforces in municipalities, counties, and broader metropolitan areas is essential for monitoring and addressing disparities in arrest and incarceration rates. By reviewing data on a regular basis and collaborating with stakeholders, these groups can develop recommendations for improvement. The collective effort would allow for the updating of standards and practices across various jurisdictions, ensuring movement towards equitable treatment throughout the criminal justice system.


Implement Consistent High-Quality Implicit Bias Training for Law Enforcement Officers

Addressing biases among law enforcement officers is crucial to ensure fair treatment and prevent the perpetuation of systemic inequalities. Implementing consistent high-quality implicit bias training is necessary to equip officers with the tools to recognize and mitigate their biases effectively. This requires police departments to evaluate the effectiveness of their training programs, enlist qualified trainers, and emphasize ongoing training sessions. By providing officers with the necessary skills, language, and strategies, they can implement policies without letting biases influence their actions, translating legislative intentions into real-world practice.

Ensure High-Quality Tech Programming in Schools 

To reduce vulnerability to criminal behavior and increase the viability of future economic prospects, it is essential to offer high-quality computer science and other tech-oriented programming in schools. Prioritizing access to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (S.T.E.M.) training and certifications, especially for marginalized communities disproportionately targeted for incarceration, can establish alternative career pathways and break cycles of poverty and crime. Equipping students with valuable skills for well-paying jobs in the tech sector empowers them to navigate towards a positive future.


Create Non-Police First Responder Programs

The creation of a Non-Police First Responder Programs entails the allocation of necessary funds for the deployment of teams of social workers, paramedics, and mental health professionals to non-violent public health-related calls. These programs aim to enhance public safety by prioritizing de-escalation and appropriate intervention over relying solely on law enforcement. They build community trust by fostering positive relationships between responders and community members. By diverting individuals in crisis to appropriate resources, these programs aim to reduce over-policing and unnecessary criminalization. 

In conclusion, the disproportionate arrests of Black youth in our country signals a troubling trend that, if left unaddressed, will perpetuate the cycle of racial disparities within our criminal justice system. In light of these stark realities, it is imperative that we take immediate action through policy and practice solutions to disrupt the institutionalized behaviors that have led to the school-to-prison pipeline and the mass incarceration epidemic.


Dr. Marcus Bright is the author of Brighter Ways Forward: Reflections on Sports, Tech, and Socioeconomic Mobility


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