There is little doubt that students who are expelled from school for bad behavior are at risk of going down a path of crime and ending up in state prisons.
Specific numbers at the local level are not available, but one fact is clear: 49 percent of those in Michigan correctional facilities do not have a high school diploma.
Breaking this “school-to-prison pipeline” is the object of an ambitious program recently under way in Michigan. Midland County Probate and Juvenile Judge Dorene Allen is an enthusiastic supporter of the project and will be one of the key proponents throughout the three-year project.
“Anyone who works in the juvenile justice system knows that kids who are suspended or expelled are much more likely to drop out altogether,” Allen says. “And when kids drop out of school, the likelihood that they’ll become involved in some kind of criminal activity increases dramatically.”
How to keep kids in school is the purpose of the statewide study, which is attracting diverse participants such as juvenile court judges, intermediate school district superintendents, prosecutors and law enforcement officers.
The program has the backing of top state officials, such as Gov. Rick Snyder and Department of Education Superintendent Mike Flanagan.
The first step is for each county in Michigan to form study “teams” that will analyze their particular truancy problems.
Allen says she was encouraged because 73 counties formed such investigative squads at a recent summit.
The teams will share information about their problems and discuss solutions. A five-member state committee chaired by Allen will review county model solutions.
Allen stresses it will be important to keep track of the data showing the net effect of the “school-to-prison” problems.
The most critical issue is to look for improvement in school attendance from now to the end of the three-year period.
The project’s goal of keeping every youth in school is likely unreachable.
But any increase in keeping young people in school and out of prison is a step in the right direction.