Back to School Event Targets Growing Prison Pipeline

It's back to school across the U.S., which means it's time to fill out the lists of school supplies you're never quite sure your child really needs. This can mean an expensive influx of bills, but thankfully, a number of group have rallied to the aid of kids in need, which in turns helps quell the school-to-prison pipeline.

In Kalamazoo, Mich, the Michigan United group Social, Economic & Educational Change (SEE Change) handed out toothbrushes and toothpaste as well as bags of school supplies at an event where there were also games, music, a photo gallery and food. The purpose of the event was to reassure parents that there is support out there, and to reinforce a positive attitude for kids going back to school.

Ultimately, the event was also to raise awareness of the school to prison pipeline, and how to reduce this. One of the major goals of SEE Change is to ensure that every child in Michigan has a positive school experience, graduates high school, and avoids prison times. They also want to make sure that as many students as possible can take advantage of the Kalamazoo Promise (https://www.kalamazoopromise.com).

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The Kalamazoo Promise is a pledge by a group of anonymous donors to pay up to 100% tuition at any of Michigan's state colleges or universities for graduates of the public high schools of Kalamazoo, Michigan. It is for all students of Kalamazoo Public Schools, as long as they meet certain residential requirements, such as residing within the boundaries of KPS, having attended high school and graduated from KPS. Students must have been enrolled in KPS at least four years, and the longer enrolment, the more financial assistance they receive.

It is a four year scholarship covering all tuition and mandatory fees, and includes vocational programs at state universities and colleges, although apprenticeships do not qualify. The program does not have a foreseeable end dat, and has been set up to continue for quite some time, ensuring many future students will be able to take advantage of this opportunity.

Michigan United also campaigns for previously incarcerated individuals, helping to seek fairness in employment opportunities. The Fair Chance 4 All campaign has ensured the City of Kalamazoo has banned the box on job applications, as well as committed to being a Fair Chance employer, meaning they do not do background checks until the final round of candidates are being considered for a position, ensuring previously incarcerated individuals have a fair chance at employment.

These are great initiatives in a time when many students are affected by the school-to-prison pipeline and newly released individuals can be discriminated against unfairly. These are concrete examples of actions that can help students, parents and educators ensure that numbers in the school to prison pipeline are reduced, that more children are graduating high school and avoiding prison, that they are becoming more successful in their communities, and that former inmates have chances for reintegration into society.

Christopher Zoukis is the author of College for Convicts: The Case for Higher Education in American Prisons (McFarland & Co., 2014) and Prison Education Guide (Prison Legal News Publishing, 2016). He can be found online at ChristopherZoukis.com, PrisonEducation.com and PrisonLawBlog.com