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Document Type

Special Section 2

Theme

FROM THEORY TO ACTIVISM: PERSPECTIVES FROM YOUTH ADVOCACY GROUPS IN WASHINGTON STATE

Abstract

Common descriptions of the School-to-Prison Pipeline (STPP), a system of policies that push students out of school and into the criminal justice system, identify harsh and unequally applied school discipline practices as the source of the pipeline. In this framework, the court is viewed as the institution solely responsible for the end of the STPP--prison, rather than as a positive influence for youth at-risk of entering the STPP. This viewpoint also fails to take into account additional contributing factors to a youth’s entrance or progression through the STPP. One such contributing factor to the STPP is excessive school absenteeism or truancy. Truancy is a known risk factor for juvenile delinquency and other negative outcomes for youth. By reframing the STPP as a pipeline that is fueled by truancy, stakeholders can better understand that the STPP’s sources are not simply limited to schools. Rather, they encompass the research-identified individual, family, and community factors that also lead to truancy. Further, in understanding that the STPP’s sources are complex and multidimensional, stakeholders can understand that schools alone are not able to disrupt the STPP and that an unexpected partner--the court--is ideal and primed to lead this effort. Acting both within and outside the scope of its traditional role, the court can help redirect youth at-risk of entering or already in the STPP toward success. With support from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation’s Models for Change Initiative, and under the leadership of the Center for Children & Youth Justice, a non-profit organization committed to better systems and lives for children, successful partnerships between courts, schools, and communities have been facilitated in Washington to reduce the number of youth in the STPP by focusing strategically on truancy prevention.

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