Posted on March 19, 2018

Broward County’s Reverse Jail-to-School Pipeline

Paul Sperry, RealClearInvestigation, March 19, 2918

At the same time the Broward County school system was dismantling the “school-to-prison pipeline” under policies that failed to stop accused shooter Nikolas Cruz, it was building another pipeline, funneling back into regular classrooms thousands of other potentially dangerous students released from local jails, county and school district records reveal.

Through a little-known “re-engagement” program for serious juvenile offenders, the Florida district has “transitioned” back to school almost 2,000 incarcerated students, a number comparable to student bodies at many high schools, according to district data obtained by RealClearInvestigations. Local probation officers warn that these offenders have a high risk of reoffending.

Another initiative, the Behavior Intervention Program, attempts to mainstream a smaller number of “students who exhibit severe, unmanageable behavior,” according to a 2017-2018 program handbook, including those who are “convicted of a serious crime such as rape, murder, attempted murder, sexual battery or firearm related [offense].”

The number of returning felons and other serious offenders has climbed each year since Broward Schools Supt. Robert Runcie, a close ally of President Obama, started the program in 2013 as part of his crusade to “end the school-to-prison pipeline,” which he says has disproportionately harmed young African-American men.


The jail-to-school re-engagement program, which is formally known as Juvenile Justice Educational and Transition Support, is run by David L. Watkins, director of the Broward district’s Office of Equity and Academic Attainment. EEA’s primary function is the oversight of “educational outcomes for court-involved students,” which includes providing instruction within the Department of Juvenile Justice jails and “transition of DJJ youth back to district schools.”


{snip} But county juvenile court statistics show that Broward students between the ages of 10 and 17 arrested from 2014-2016 were charged with a range of serious crimes, including: murder, manslaughter, armed robbery, car theft, aggravated assault, battery, sex offenses, weapons violations, vandalism, drug charges and other felonies related to gang activity.

With the encouragement of the Obama Education Department, Broward County schools in 2013 signed a pioneering agreement with law enforcement that made the police and schools partners in a social experiment of relaxed juvenile-crime enforcement to reduce racial disparities in arrests and incarceration. {snip}

Cruz, who now faces the death penalty for allegedly murdering 17 people last month at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, benefited from this policy. He was never booked for a series of arrestable offenses, which is one reason he could pass a background check and purchase the weapon he used in the mass shooting.


“Broward compromised safety by systematically lowering behavioral standards, but it is worse than anyone has even suspected,” said Max Eden, an education policy expert and senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute. Broward school officials declined to comment on such criticisms.


Cassandra Evans, Broward County’s chief juvenile probation officer, has issued a general warning that juveniles transitioning out of secure detention have a high recidivism rate. “This population is highly at risk of reoffending within the first 45 days [of release],” she said at a recent Department of Juvenile Justice advisory board meeting.

Some critics complain that the entire program is shrouded in secrecy.

Levine says he regularly fields complaints from victims of Broward school crimes, and is consulting with survivors of the Stoneman Douglas shooting and their parents. He said many of the incarcerated students being recycled back into schools are members of local gangs responsible for a recent rash of home invasions, burglaries, armed robberies and car thefts plaguing the county, which includes Fort Lauderdale.

“They’re the reason these gangs control some schools,” he said. “They get out of juvi and go back into schools, where they recruit younger kids and run drugs through the schools.”


Watkins, who was involved in Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper initiative for mentoring young black men, did not respond to requests for comment. But last year, he told the Department of Juvenile Justice advisory board for the Broward circuit that he and other officials “have worked hard to reduce the number of kids in detention and residential facilities.” Watkins serves on the board with Chairwoman Marsha Ellison, the local NAACP leader who helped Runcie draft the anti-arrest agreement with law enforcement.

The achievement gap “becomes intensified in the school-to-prison pipeline, where black males are disproportionately represented,” Runcie has said. District documents say the jail-to-school transitioning is intended to fulfill a social goal of including “all students,” but especially those of color, in the traditional school setting and out of the juvenile justice system, where they can lose valuable classroom time, be “stigmatized” by criminal records and pushed deeper into the state prison system.