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School to Prison: Why Our System Is Failing Our Children

Josh Soule

Posted on August 2, 2020 20:26

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Incarcerated inmates share a frightening statistic that can be better addressed in adolescence.

Prison is filled with people serving time for crimes they were convicted of. Jails are filled with a combination of people, some convicted, some not. Neither of these places is somewhere we want our children to ever go in their lifetime; yet, with rising prison populations each year, their chances of incarceration increase.

If you are the type of person to say that your student or child is not the type to commit crimes or be arrested, you might be surprised to learn that many incarcerated persons share a shocking statistic.

The Statistic

According to the United States Department of Justice, 45-64% of incarcerated adults have mental health problems (BJS, 2006).

This means on any given day, around half of the people in jails and prisons in the US are suffering from mental health problems.

Several articles and studies have shown that students who are suspended from school are much more likely to be arrested as an adult. The indication is that many incarcerated adults exhibited notable behaviors during their school years.

The Correlation

Incarcerated adults with mental illness likely exhibited signs of their mental illness during critical juvenile stages, potentially through behavior in the school system. Yet their mental illness remained untreated or insufficiently treated into adulthood.

The correlation is that if mental illness is identified AND treated from a young age, adult incarceration rates could be reduced by up to 64%.

The Problem

School systems are not to blame. In fact, many schools are quick to identify behavior and mental health concerns, particularly with the help of an IEP team or other multi-disciplinary group. Teachers, counselors, behavior interventionists, school psychologists, and administrators monitor red flags and remain in constant communication with parents and guardians to offer their recommendations and insight.

The problem lies in this process. Schools can identify, not diagnose. Schools can recommend, but not treat. Over half of our school children in the U.S. receive education via Title 1 funding, and nearly half of all Americans are uninsured or under-insured. Schools may identify and make recommendations on mental health treatment, but around half of all families cannot afford proper mental health treatment for themselves or their children.

It's simply a matter of being able to afford the recommended treatment or medication.

The Solution

It is not implausible to believe that school districts can budget to employ a psychiatrist that is able to diagnose and treat students with mental health requirements. This should be optional to parents, not a requirement. Title 1 funding can expand to treatment and medication in extreme and necessary cases. The psychiatrist would complement school counselors and psychologists, not replace them.

If incarceration rates can be decreased by nearly half, more correctional system-funded staff and finances can focus on preventative and programmatic measures to reduce both recidivism and initial incarceration rates. Our current system of punishment, not prevention, is failing.

Josh Soule

Posted on August 2, 2020 20:26

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