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State lawmaker wants to break school to prison 'pipeline'

FILE - Rep. Sandra Hollins (D) speaks at the state Capitol in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Aug. 19, 2015. Hollins was one of several guest speakers Saturday during a symposium Saturday at the S.J. Quinney College of Law at the University of Utah. The them
FILE - Rep. Sandra Hollins (D) speaks at the state Capitol in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Aug. 19, 2015. Hollins was one of several guest speakers Saturday during a symposium Saturday at the S.J. Quinney College of Law at the University of Utah. The theme of the event was "Breaking the Pipeline," with the pipeline referring to what the group says is a trouble trend of juveniles going straight from school to prison.
Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Meeting at the flagpole after school is something juveniles have been doing for generations.

But should a scuffle or fist fight that doesn't involve weapons result in referrals to juvenile court?

At least one Utah lawmaker says no.

Rep. Sandra Hollins, D-Salt Lake City, was one of several guest speakers Saturday during a symposium Saturday at the S.J. Quinney College of Law at the University of Utah. The theme of the event was "Breaking the Pipeline," with the pipeline referring to what the group says is a trouble trend of juveniles going straight from school to prison.

In 2014, the law school’s Public Policy Clinic released a report, “From Fingerpaint to Fingerprints: The School-to-Prison Pipeline in Utah." What they found was the discipline handed down to some students was simply funneling them out of public schools and into the criminal justice system "through a combination of overly harsh zero-tolerance school policies and the increased involvement of law enforcement in schools," according to the law school.

"Studies show that suspension and expulsion rates are closely correlated with dropout and delinquency rates, and have tremendous economic costs. Referrals to law enforcement and arrests at school are the harshest forms of school disciplinary action," according to the report.

"If we want our children to succeed, we are going to have to rethink how and how often we discipline them in our schools,” said professor Emily Chiang, who directed the research and analysis for the report.

The study found that students who were suspended even once were more likely to drop out of school, and that nearly 70 percent of the U.S. prison population consisted of high school dropouts.

The study also found that nonwhite students and students with mental disabilities received a disproportionate share of the discipline handed out.

Hollins said there still needs to be consequences for students who commit crimes. But she says school administrators and school resource officers need to separate behavioral problems and "acting out" from criminal behavior. Alternative forms of discipline are needed for the former instead of sending someone straight to juvenile detention.

Hollins said she would like school resource officers to be required to have more training, particularly cultural training, so they can better deal with students from various backgrounds. The representative would also like school resource officers to have more training on dealing with students with disabilities, she said.

Hollins said her bill is still a work a progress, as she is "trying to bring all parties to the table," including school administrators and law enforcement, before officially introducing it.

Saturday's symposium also included the groups Racially Just Utah, UCASA and the Social Justice Student Initiative, American Civil Liberties Union, University of Utah’s Office of Community Engagement and Utah Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.

Email: preavy@deseretnews.com

Twitter: DNewsCrimeTeam