A local woman recently found out her son had bought a dirt bike. Then she found out he’d been arrested.
“I didn’t even know you needed a license to drive a dirt bike,” she said, explaining that her son was ultimately charged with running from police. “They said he was fleeing and eluding.”
Later, when the dirt bike was reported stolen, the teenager was also charged with theft. He denies stealing the bike, but the public defender has told his mother, “It’s not looking good.”
“At this point, I just got a great big headache and I don’t know which way to go,” she said.
The Escambia teen is still waiting to find out his fate. Waiting to find out if his dirt bike foray will kick start his journey into Florida’s juvenile justice system—a trip that could prove to be a slippery path, winding through bleak terrain and bound toward a life in the system.
“A path of destruction,” noted Claudia Brown-Curry. “Set ‘em up for failure, uh-huh.”
Brown-Curry is a former school guidance counselor and the executive director of the Teen Empowered Mentoring Parent Program, as well as a member of the Escambia County Youth Justice Coalition. The trip she describes has a name—the “Prison Pipeline.”
The U.S. Senate held a hearing on the issue in December. The pipeline theory—referred to as both the School-to-Prison Pipeline, as well as the Cradle-to-Prison Pipeline—contends that the country’s children are increasingly being pulled into the criminal system for relatively minor incidents, thus greatly increasing the chances that they will become intimately acquainted with that system throughout their life.
“Once they’ve been introduced to the criminal system,” Brown-Curry said, “it’s a constant flow.”
The juvenile justice community tends not to use the “pipeline” terminology. But the conversation is otherwise the same.
“To be honest,” said Florida Department of Juvenile Justice Secretary Wansley Walters, “by the time some kids are done with the juvenile justice system they don’t have much choice but to go on to the adult prison system.”