Amy’s Freak-Out Interlude
Amy LaVoy, keeper of the Escambia County budget, freaked out a couple of weeks ago. Initially, she freaked out about the county’s Medicaid costs. Then she freaked out about juvenile justice.
“We could put these kids in Harvard for two years for less than it is costing us to incarcerate them,” LaVoy informed the Escambia County Commission.
LaVoy’s freak-outs are almost always comforting. Her smile tends to soften the brutality of the math.
“I could get up on a soapbox,” LaVoy continued in her office a few days later. “You could literally put these kids up at the beach, in the most expensive hotel, feed them three times a day and pay them not to commit anymore crimes.”
The county budget analyst is concerned about how much it’s costing Escambia to arrest and detain juveniles. Each detained juvenile is costing the county $290 each day, around $106,000 annually.
“It’s prima facie ridiculous,” LaVoy said.
She suggested that perhaps more kids could be electronically monitored—ball-parking the rate at $17 a day—instead of detained. Cracking a smile, she slid a piece of paper across her desk.
“Here is the annual cost of going to Harvard,” LaVoy said. “This is insane.”
Messy in Mississippi, Depressing in D.C.
In October of last year, the U.S. Justice Department filed a civil rights lawsuit in Mississippi against the city of Meridian, Lauderdale County, the Mississippi Department of Youth Services, and two youth court judges for violating the Fourth, Fifth and 14th Amendment rights of Meridian public school children—what the 37-page suit described as a “school-to-prison pipeline.”
The federal lawsuit laid out a messy scene in Meridian. It was followed up a couple of months later with pipeline discussions on Capitol Hill.
“For many young people, our schools are increasingly a gateway to the criminal justice system,” Sen. Richard Durbin, (D-Ill.), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee opened the hearing on the school-to-prison pipeline.
The senator attributed the so-called pipeline to the rise of zero-tolerance polices and police presence at schools during the 1990s.
“A schoolyard fight that used to warrant a visit to the principal’s office can now lead to a trip to the booking station and a judge,” Durbin said.
The hearing featured a panel of experts, including a college sophomore that relayed a bleak disciplinary scene at his Chicago high school. He described how arrests were so common that police set up a processing center on campus.
“I felt constantly in a state of alert, afraid to make even the smallest mistake,” Edward Ward told the senators.
The pipeline’s disproportionate impact on African-American students was also covered. Data reveals that black students are much more likely to be disciplined, and disciplined more severely, than white students—an issue addressed locally last year by a Southern Poverty Law Center civil rights complaint against the Escambia County School District.
“It raises substantial concerns,” Assistant Education Secretary Deborah Delisle said at the December hearing.
Melodee Hanes, acting administrator of the Justice Department’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, forecasted the disadvantaged futures for children caught up in the juvenile justice system.
“We have learned,” she said at the hearing, “that the minute a child sets foot in the juvenile justice system, their chances of becoming an adult offender go up 50 percent.