Youth of color, especially black youth, are treated more harshly at every step of the school discipline and juvenile justice systems in Florida. Florida’s Department of Juvenile Justice and Department of Education data tells us that black youth are:

  • Twice as likely to receive in-school suspensions as their white peers.
  • Two and a half times as likely to be pushed out of their school through exclusionary discipline, including out-of-school suspensions and expulsions.
  • More than 3 times as likely to be arrested.
  • And twice as likely to be charged as an adult when arrested.

Think about your community’s demographics and examine trends in school discipline and juvenile justice rates. Native American and immigrant youth are subject to some of the same mistreatment and barriers as black youth, resulting in disparate impacts.

Contributing Factors

Identifying the disparity is only the first step. A multitude of factors have been found to contribute to such disparities.

  • Institutional racism. From our country’s birth, we treated people differently. Resources, power and opportunity were completely withheld from the black community. There was never a momentous reckoning that shifted this dynamic. Rather, the black community had to fight for equal rights over generations. Remnants of disastrous policies that discriminated against black families continue to limit equity in healthcare, housing, education, employment and the legal system.

Such institutionalized racism will not solve itself. Black babies in Florida are half as likely to see their first birthday. Black men have the shortest life expectancy of any group in the United States. More than half of black households in Florida live below the ALICE threshold. Segregation persists. The average black household with an income of more than $60,000 lived in a neighborhood with a higher poverty rate than did the average white household earning less than $20,000. It isn’t getting better. Between 2000 and 2014, the percentage of public schools with at least 75% black or Hispanic students and at least 75% of students eligible for free- or reduced-price lunch grew from 9- to 16-percent. Such schools are more likely to rely on the police for school discipline, had disproportionately high suspension and expulsion rates and offered disproportionately fewer math, science and college prep classes.

  • Implicit bias. Closely related to institutional racism, this is the underlying biases that we’ve all inherited from our culture. Everyone has such unconscious associations that affect our decisions, behavior and interactions with others. It is not intentional. You may not even be aware. But we act on our implicit biases, which can undermine our intentions.

Black boys are perceived as older than they are. The perceived dangerousness of a neighborhood is predicted more by the percentage of black males in the area than the actual crime rate. Black girls are perceived as angry, aggressive, and promiscuous. Black students are met with lower expectations, even in preschool. People in power routinely misread black youth’s intentions and potential threat. The dehumanization that made slavery possible has left its mark on our collective consciousness – we expect black youth to be more dangerous.

Ending the School to Prison Pipeline through refocusing school discipline on developing executive functioning skills in youth, rather than punishment or exclusion, will help black youth. Encouraging schools to refocus school resource officers on safety, not discipline, is vital, as is encouraging the adoption of programs rooted in restorative justice and pre-arrest diversion. To specifically combat the racial inequities, you can also:

  • Encourage education and juvenile justice professionals to participate in implicit bias training.
  • Encourage cities and counties to invest in black communities and businesses.