By DANIELLE EMERSON
Capital News Service
LANSING – Youth of color are disproportionately suspended and expelled from public schools across Michigan, according to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).
Its report said they are therefore three times more likely to enter the juvenile justice system and face harsher consequences than white youth.
The report tracked the suspension rates of 40 districts in Wayne, Oakland, Macomb, Washtenaw, Muskegon and Alpena counties.
For example, the ACLU found that during the 2007-2008 school year at Van Dyke School District in Macomb County, black students accounted for 32 percent of middle and high schoolers but received 58 percent of short-term suspensions.
The ACLU noted, “These problems may not always break down along simple black and white lines, and other students of color are disproportionately suspended in particular school districts.
“But based on data collected for this report, black students have been disproportionately excluded from almost every school district that supplied data for this study.”
Michelle Weemhoff, senior policy associate for the nonprofit Michigan Council on Crime and Delinquency, said, “There are a lot of theories as to why and a lot of it has to do with societal disparities.”
Weemhoff said that while racial marginalization and “targeting” of students of color by authorities is a concern, the council’s focus is on the school-to-prison pipeline that is so common for youth of color, especially African-American males.
The Michigan Juvenile Justice Collaboration – a project of the Council on Crime and Delinquency – reports that while African-American juveniles accounted for only 35 percent of arrests in 2009, they were more likely to be arrested, detained or confined than white youth. They were also more likely to stay in the juvenile justice system rather than be referred to community probation than their white peers.
“What we want to emphasize is that when we do have kids that come into the system that there are appropriate options for them,” Weemhoff said.
Advocates propose a variety of approaches to reduce racial disparities. For the council, it includes a re-entry initiative of the Department of Corrections, ensuring juveniles have a safe and productive environment to come back to and encouraging family involvement in a youth’s rehabilitation.
Nancy Oliver, community coordinator at the Michigan Prisoner Re-Entry Initiative, said reducing racial disparity takes both an individual and community responsibility.
“Education and opportunities need to be made available across the board,” she said, “And communities need to embrace those who may not know that they have those choices and opportunities available to support them in making those different choices.”
The Capital Area Michigan Prisoner Re-Entry Initiative is hosting an event, “Breaking the Cycle of Incarceration” on May 27 at Lansing Community College. The event targets at-risk 13- to 25-year-olds and is aimed at “educating (the kids) against the criminal lifestyle,” according to Oliver.
Students will have a chance to speak with inmates at the Bellamy Creek Correctional Facility in Ionia who are expected to “dispel the myths” of the glamour of the prison lifestyle.
The event will be co-sponsored with various youth advocacy organizations, including One Love Global, an organization based in Lansing that uses leadership development to inspire African-American youth.
© 2010, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.