Panel Discusses Race Disparities in Criminal Justice, Schooling Practices

Madeleine List, The Diamondback, September 10, 2013

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One out of every 15 black men ages 18 and older is in prison. For white men of the same age, the figure is one in 106, according to the National Institute of Justice.

A panel of scholars last night discussed why this disparity exists and where the root of the problem lies at an event called Pre-K to Prison Pipeline: Changing the Odds for Boys of Color.

“This is not a boy problem; this is an American problem,” said Becky Pettit, professor of sociology at the University of Washington, who spoke to a packed audience in the Atrium Room in Stamp Student Union.

These problems begin at a very young age, said Oscar Barbarin, psychology professor at Tulane University. Young black boys who act out in school are often singled out by their teachers, are punished more harshly than other children and are more likely to be suspended or expelled, he said.

Schools, then, lie at the core of these issues instead of acting as part of the solution, said Pedro Noguera, a New York University education professor.

“Too often, schools, rather than being the place where we intervene, is a place where problems emerge and grow and result in other consequences that make them harder to address,” he said.

The main consequence for many black students is dropping out of high school, which can lead to unemployment, substance abuse, crime and, inevitably, incarceration, Noguera said. {snip}

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About 11.5 percent of black children have a parent in prison, Pettit said, which puts added stress on these families, plunging them deeper into poverty and increasing the odds that children will drop out of school.

The key, the experts said, is to change the way people think and talk about race in society.

“Our fear of black boys and men is so visceral, it matches the fear we have about spiders and snakes,” said Howard Stevenson, a professor in the applied psychology and human development division at the University of Pennsylvania’s education graduate school.

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