Ken Johnson, juvenile justice expert and certified Florida mediator, discussed the potential of restorative justice practices to mitigate the severe harm to young people caught up in the school-to-prison pipeline. With a new academic year starting, Ken wanted to the reasons behind the shocking statistic that 4 out of every 5 incarcerated adults started out in the juvenile justice system. According to Ken, this is all by design and is part and parcel of the culture’s punitive attitude toward children.
Ken described the coincidence of standardized testing schedules and high rates of at-risk youth arrested at school, which tends to raise a school’s test scores and secure more funding for the school because low scorers are removed from the test pool. He also discussed the stark racial disparities both in arrest rates and in levels of violence exacted upon incarcerated youth. He shared the well-documented story of the “Whitehouse Boys” and the horrors perpetrated by law enforcement and guards at the now-defunct prison in Marianna, Florida. Ken decried the lack of criminal penalties for these and other abuses due to law-enforcement immunity from prosecution.
Ken also discussed the commonplace labeling of certain neighborhoods as “million-dollar blocks.” These are city blocks with so many arrests that nearly $1M dollars is lost annually due to lack of productivity, criminal background-related unemployment, and other consequences of a carceral state. Ken sees these problems worsening in the future without activism because the incentives for punishing youth are so entrenched.
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