Closing the school-to-prison pipeline

As of 2012, Wyoming ranks second in the nation per capita for youth under court order to a detention facility or other residential placement, and fourth in the nation for school referrals to law enforcement, according to information provided by Wyoming Afterschool Alliance Director, Linda Barton.

To address these issues, the statewide summit on juvenile justice emphasizing reduction of the school-to-prison pipeline was held last April 25, at the Holiday Inn in Riverton.

The summit was hosted by the Wyoming Afterschool Alliance, an organization dedicated to providing expanded learning opportunities for children and youth during high-risk hours between 3-6p.m. as well as offering summer learning opportunities.

“We are concerned with primary prevention starting in elementary school by early identification of children that have challenging behaviors,” Barton said. “Hopefully by putting them into an afterschool program we can turn around some of those behaviors through various strategies.”

Attendees of the summit included afterschool providers, school district leaders, legal and judicial professionals, state government agencies, mental health professionals, state and federal legislators, county prevention coalitions and law enforcement.

The Wyoming Afterschool Alliance emphasizes the promotion of actives that support positive youth development, provision of adult mentors, and a nonrestrictive environment for at-risk youth.

According to information provided by Barton, “at-risk youth” is defined as students who are less likely to achieve economic self-sufficiency and successfully transition into adulthood.

“We had two panels discuss the issue of helping to reduce the school-to-prison pipeline by utilizing afterschool programs as a first-tier of prevention and low-level intervention,” Barton said.

According to information presented at the summit, there were two main areas addressed.

The first was primary prevention, which includes identification of high-risk children, promotion of after school programs in individual school district education plans, building intervention teams, and providing professional development programs that serve children and youth.

The second area of focus was early intervention involving collection of data for the number of afterschool programs offered for youth aged middle school to high school in Wyoming school districts, and providing evidence-based services for guidance and implementation of funding and curriculum.

Such efforts are intended to reduce juvenile citations, increase engagement in learning as well school attendance, improve grade averages and increase graduation rates.

Barton said strategies involved in supporting those outcomes are “positive youth development, caring mentors, positive adults, community kinds of services that help with support and providing a safety net for the child”.

The two panels at the summit discussed perspectives from the juvenile justice field and the effects of afterschool-models.

“While we are not going to completely eliminate the need for some kind of other more expensive interventions,” Barton said, “we can certainly help to reduce those numbers by getting to kids early and often.”

According to data from 21st Century Community Learning Center afterschool providers and Wyoming Department of Family Services, the number of youth served per year from after school programs is 14,000, versus 1,855 students served per year by higher-level intervention.

In addition, afterschool programs cost $800 per youth per year, while higher-level intervention efforts cost $9,000 per youth per year.

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