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Breaking the School-to-Prison Pipeline Internationally

Breaking the School-to-Prison Pipeline Internationally

TnT_Port_of_Spain_6-prChildren should have the latitude to make mistakes and to learn and grow from them. It’s part of the growing up process. Yet, when many at-risk youth break the law, rather than leniency and understanding, they end up incarcerated and learn life’s lessons from those hardened by circumstances. A cycle of jail begins. It’s not just happening in the US, but also globally. A contingent representing ANDRUS and its Sanctuary Institute headed to Trinidad to learn what others are doing in the New Year to address the growing problem – and to see how ANDRUS could help.

The first leg of the trip involved Sarah Yanosy, Director, ANDRUS Sanctuary Institute, and Joe Benamati, Coordinator of the New York Department of Juvenile Justice Consortium for ANDRUS, as they headed to Trinidad’s capital, Port of Spain (see photo). It’s bustling and sprawling as one of the leading cities in the Caribbean region.

2015-12SanctuaryInTrinidad-prWhile there, they met with leaders from the 159-year-old St. Mary’s Children’s Home, who are renovating and redesigning their antiquated residence. The Trinidadian staff is looking to incorporate the Sanctuary Approach as a way to enhance the care the orphanage is providing to the young people in their program. After a tour and giving a presentation, the ANDRUS team promised support for St. Mary’s efforts.

The following day, Sarah and Joe joined ANDRUS President and CEO, Bryan R. Murphy at a planning committee led by the Archbishop of Trinidad, Joseph Harris. This committee is planning to build an alternative to incarceration program for youth who have been arrested for the first time.

Photo, from left, Joe Benamati (Coordinator, NY Dept. of Juvenile Justice Consortium, ANDRUS), Sarah Yanosy (Director, ANDRUS Sanctuary Institute), Joseph Harris (Archbishop of Trinidad) and Bryan R. Murphy (President and CEO, ANDRUS)

The concept is that they will serve young men and young women, with the expectation that some of the women may not be offenders, but will have been trafficked. The youth will be court-ordered to this treatment program — rather than to a corrections facility. Their court records then would be expunged after completion. The committee is hoping to stop the pipeline to prison for these youth by providing intervention at the point of first offense. They have worked with an architect to design the campus, and based on the blueprints, it is really impressive!

Trauma exposure can impact young people in the juvenile justice and child welfare systems and equally impact the very agencies and systems that exist to help them. Ms. Yanosy explains how the Sanctuary Approach can help, “When staff members trained in Sanctuary are taught how to recognize the systemic symptoms of trauma among and between their colleagues, their agencies and the system as a whole, they can actively intervene to create a child welfare culture that promotes healing rather than one that simply replicates the traumatic experiences these children have endured in the past.”

She adds, “Intervention can happen way before the court and child welfare systems are involved – for instance, school personnel can be trained as well as community support staff. The only way to break the cycle is to intercede before trauma can become entrenched.”

According to the ACLU*, the school-to-prison pipeline in the United States reflects the prioritization of incarceration over education and is facilitated by several factors:

  • Failing Public Schools — overcrowded classrooms, a lack of qualified teachers, and insufficient funding for “extras” such as counselors, special education services, and even textbooks, lock students into second-rate educational environments.
  • Zero-Tolerance and Other School Discipline — lacking resources, facing incentives to push out low-performing students, and responding to a handful of highly-publicized school shootings, schools have embraced zero-tolerance policies that automatically impose severe punishment regardless of circumstances.
  • Policing School Hallways — growing numbers of districts employ school resource officers to patrol school hallways, often with little or no training in working with youth. As a result, children are far more likely to be subject to school-based arrests—the majority of which are for non-violent offenses, such as disruptive behavior—than they were a generation ago.
  • Court Involvement and Juvenile Detention — students who commit minor offenses may end up in secured detention if they violate boilerplate probation conditions prohibiting them from activities like missing school or disobeying teachers.

One of the most important outcomes for juvenile justice — and one of the most difficult to attain — has been to decrease re-offending and re-incarceration. Sanctuary breaks the cycle.

The Sanctuary approach assumes successful reintegration into a community begins at admission to the facility, therefore the challenge is to engage youth in recovery from trauma and to help him or her envision a new future. Building an attachment to the program and the staff as well as the building skills are the primary vehicles for rehabilitation. Likewise, the idea that facility staff are working towards a greater good than simply housing a youth go a long way in impressing upon the youth the skills of citizenship and relationship building post-placement. According to Ms. Yanosy, the Andrus Sanctuary has seen progress in over 50 juvenile justice programs adopting this philosophy across NY, TX, PA and CO.


*Bulleted information is excerpted from the ACLU website,