‘A huge part of our work was interrupting the school-to-prison pipeline in our own community’
A Chicago-based nonprofit is finding success helping at-risk kids stay out of prison by using restorative justice as a model toward resolving disciplinary issues in the classroom.
“A huge part of our work was interrupting the school-to-prison pipeline in our own community,” said Mariame Kaba, the founder and director of the Project NIA organization. It supports youth who appear headed for the criminal justice system.
The organization committed to a local school, Gale Community Academy, assisting them in addressing disciplinary issues differently, as opposed to sending children to the principal’s office where suspension or in some cases arrest would be imminent. Project NIA teaches local schools the benefit of peace circles and third-party mediation measures.
Kaba says the costs should be borne by local and state government.
“Chicago Public Schools (CPS) really needed to take on the cost that is needed for a school like Gale…,” Kaba said in an interview with Susan Du of The Chicago Bureau.
There is not a positive track record with the public school system supporting proactive alternatives to handling disciplinary issues, but there is good reason to be optimistic about future collaboration, the January article reported.
Jadine Chou is the newly appointed head of safety and security at CPS. Chou has been trained in restorative justice and used it while working with the Chicago Public Housing Authority.
Kaba also asserted that schools are not the inception of the prison pipeline. There has long been talk about there being a cradle-to-prison pipeline, much of which is due to the poverty in urban cities. Where there is poverty, one can usually find an abundance of negative influences and trauma and high percentages of literacy challenged people. These things contribute to high levels of delinquency, she said.
The schools need to do better at providing adequate training for teachers and classroom management, without relying on punitive measures to restore order, she added.
“CPS has done a great job of taking zero tolerance out of the discipline code, but they haven’t funded the initiatives that are going to be needed to support the practical implication of teaching people how to not be punitive,” Kaba said.