October 25, 2018
NEWBURGH, N.Y. -
Mara Schiff, associate professor in the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice at the College for Design and Social Inquiry, was the keynote speaker at Mount Saint Mary College’s 9th annual CARD conference, “Restorative Justice: Dismantling the School to Prison Pipeline” on Friday, October 12.
Mount Saint Mary College’s Center on Adolescent Research and Development (CARD) hosted its 9th annual conference, “Restorative Justice: Dismantling the School to Prison Pipeline” on Friday, October 12 at the college.
The conference featured Mara Schiff, associate professor in the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice at the College for Design and Social Inquiry, as keynote speaker.
“When I talk about the School to Prison Pipeline, I’m talking about educational policies that criminalize particularly minor infractions of school rules…so students are disciplined and suspended for behavior that could have been handled in school,” said Schiff. These students then “wind up at home or on the street” and are influenced by “other youths who are further along on the path who engage them in further criminal activity.”
Schiff says that such at-risk students – particularly students of color – are often unable to receive all the benefits of schooling due to punishments that remove them from the classroom. Additionally, it’s more difficult to get a job or adequate housing if one has been incarcerated, a reality many of these students will face when they are older.
So why do students act out in the first place? Often it’s due to difficulties at home, said Schiff. If a child’s parent was part of the school to prison pipeline themselves, that child might be suffering as a result.
“These are the kids who are coming into our classrooms acting out, fighting, bullying, and being disrespectful,” she said. “And when you think of a child behaving badly, we tend to think about punishment as a response,” thus perpetuating the pipeline paradigm.
Unfortunately, there’s no single solution to the issue, said Schiff. But restorative justice approaches could start breaking the cycle, she noted.
Instead of traditional punishments, restorative justice focuses on relationships between community members. The victims, offenders, and members of the community work together to find a solution that repairs, as much as possible, the harm done. Restorative practices use dialogue, mediation, and other means to hold offenders accountable for their actions, while also helping them to reintegrate into the community after their responsibilities to the victims and community have been met.
Restorative justice helps to “build community and a sense of shared responsibility,” said Schiff. In the classroom, “If I know we [student and teacher] have a relationship and I can talk to you about what happened at home last night, I am far less likely to act out in your classroom because of what I am carrying inside.”
Other CARD conference speakers included Kelisa Wing, U.S. Department of Defense Teacher of the Year; Dr. Jason N. Adsit, president of Mount Saint Mary College; Lisa Alvarez, director of admissions for graduate programs and adult degree completion at the Mount; Jenifer Lee-Gonyea, Mount associate Criminology professor; and Kate Melody Burmon, Mount assistant Criminology professor.
Front row, left to right: Frances Spielhagen, Mount Education professor and CARD co-director; Paul Schwartz, Mount Psychology professor and CARD co-director; and Mara Schiff, associate professor in the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice at the College for Design and Social Inquiry. Back row: Kate Melody Burmon, Mount assistant Criminology professor; Kelisa Wing, U.S. Department of Defense Teacher of the Year; Dr. Jason N. Adsit, president of Mount Saint Mary College; Jenifer Lee-Gonyea, Mount associate Criminology professor; and Lisa Alvarez, director of admissions for graduate programs and adult degree completion at the Mount.
Lee-Gonyea and Burmon noted that the Mount recently launched its Criminology major. The major explores the varied aspects of crime, from victimization and the criminal justice system to exploring society’s response to criminals and the reasons people break the law. This includes classes on restorative justice.
Following the conference, playwright, actress, and educator Anna Deavere Smith presented a special performance of Notes from the Field, Reflections on the School to Prison Pipeline. The audience was composed of conference attendees, Mount students, faculty, and staff, and members of the local community.
Smith uses her unique brand of theatre to explore issues of community, character, and diversity in America. Notes from the Field, winner of an Obie Award and the 2017 Nortel Award for Outstanding Solo Show, examines the school to prison pipeline, as well as injustice and inequality in low-income communities. The show has been praised by Time magazine, and has appeared both on Broadway and on HBO.
“If we want schools to be the intervention…we have to really support them more than we are now,” said Smith. “And we have to be a lot more creative about what school is, and we have to have a lot more compassion. If we expect people to learn, we have to care about them, and we have to care about the teachers and the other people who go in there every day and try to make a difference.”
The conference and performance were sponsored by the Newburgh Enlarged City School District and the Center for Adolescent Research and Development. CARD is co-directed by professors Frances Spielhagen, Education, and Paul Schwartz, Psychology.
Anna Deavere Smith, actress and playwright, presented Notes from the Field, Reflections on the School to Prison Pipeline.at Mount Saint Mary College on Friday, October 12.