Missouri: The School-to-Prison Pipeline Needs Some Grease

The State of Missouri has passed a new statute that will treat school fights as a felony. With credit to the journalist Sarah Kendzior (see the tweet above), here’s how a local school district is interpreting it:

Dear Parents/Guardians:
We want to make you aware of a few new State Statutes that will go into effect on January 1, 2017, which may have a drastic impact on how incidents are handled in area school districts.
The way the new statue reads, if a person commits the offense of an assault in the third degree this will now be classified as a Class E Felony, rather than a misdemeanor. If he or she knowingly causes physical injury to another person (hits someone or has a fight with another individual and an injury occurs) – one or both participants may be charged with a Felony.
What does this mean for students?
For example, if two students are fighting and one child is injured, the student who caused the injury may be charged with a felony. Student(s) who are caught fighting in school, bus or on school grounds may now be charged with a felony (no matter the age or grade level), if this assault is witnessed by one of the School Resource Officers/police officers (SRO) or if the SRO/local law enforcement officials have to intervene.

Hazelwood is a St. Louis suburb just northwest of  Ferguson, for reference. It’s majority white, but with a substantial (35% or so) non-white population.

This law will be enforced unequally. Yes, the law is the law, but enforcement of the law – what behaviors are or are not criminalized – will be refracted through all the individual and systemic biases of American society.

A few key phrases:

  • “No matter the age or grade level” – 5 year olds will be charged for fighting.
  • “If the assault is witnessed” – The presence of SROs in the school intensifies the likelihood of criminalization, rather than peace.

The law will result in children of color, disabled children, and especially disabled children of color being criminalized, incarcerated, and otherwise removed from society. That is the intention of such laws. The school-to-prison pipeline is not an accident or side-effect. It’s working as designed.

Smiling parents and administrators will counter, “just don’t fight!” And then when kids fight, “You shouldn’t have fought! You should have complied with rules.” And thus the #cultofcompliance will help grease the school to prison pipeline for marginalized children.

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