Are Our Children Being Pushed Into Prison...and By What?
Community Coalition's infographic on the pipeline to prison is stirring up conversation about how we frame the dynamics that lead to high incarceration rates in the United States. It's a powerful infographic...telling a powerfully disturbing story:
- 68% of all males in state and federal prison do not have a high school diploma.
- 70% of inmates in California state prison are former foster care youth.
It's a story about how two systems, education and foster care, are not effectively connecting youth to further education and training, the labor market or adequate supports. It's a story about the interplay of systems -- and how we push youth into deeper end systems when systems are provide inadequate and/or ineffective services. It's how we rip away opportunities for young people to make the transition to adulthood by systematically disconnecting them from the very supports and opportunities they need.
However, there is an alternative view that this infographic is misdirecting attention to the systems when it should be focused on the underlying causes. As Gary Stangler, Executive Director of Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative wrote in an email conversation,
I find it offensive to call the foster care system a breeding ground for the criminal justice system, as if it was the system itself and not the poverty, homelessness, and violence in the community that is the petri dish.
It's not that anyone doubts Community Coalition's effectiveness in organizing and pushing a strong equity-focused policy agenda. They have demonstrated their leadership for over two decades. In this campaign, they've put what we know about two different systems into one visually impactful storyline. It may be exactly what we need to get policymakers' attention on the high rates of incarceration in the U.S. But will it also be helpful to foster care advocates and education advocates to further their work?
With presidential elections around the corner, this is a good time to take a step back and think about the national and federal policy agenda and how we want to frame our messages. Should we be talking more about the worsening economic and social conditions for young people and less about systems reform? Should we be strategizing with Opportunity Nation about how to build a public demand for solutions to the youth unemployment crisis? Or do we keep our focus on systems reforms, continuing on our current framing of focusing on common outcomes across multiple systems?
What do you think?
This blog was originally published on Connected by 25, the blog of the Youth Transition Funders Group (YTFG). It is reprinted here with permission.