In a February 16 speech delivered in the Harlem section of northern Manhattan, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton proposed a $2 billion plan to address what she described as a national problem of too many African-American students being diverted into the criminal justice system.
Speaking in the auditorium of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture on Malcolm X Avenue, the Secretary of State and former Senator from New York told her audience – which included Gov. Andrew Cuomo, New York City mayor Bill de Blasio, Rep. Charles Rangel, and former U.S. Attorney-General Eric Holder -- of her plan to devote $2 billion to pay for more social workers, behavioral specialists and school district staffers to create “school climate support teams” nationwide. The teams would work with students, parents and schools to reduce the disproportionately high rates of school suspensions, expulsions and other discipline for black and Latino students.
Statistics show that 40% of students expelled from U.S. schools are blacks, and are more than three times more likely than white students to be suspended. Black and Latino students high school students are not only drop out before graduating at twice the rate of their white counterparts, but also account for 70% of in-school arrests and school referrals to law enforcement.
Decrying increasing police involvement in school discipline, particularly in schools with a majority of black students. Mrs. Clinton called for a greater emphasis on methods to resolve problems through school staff, rather than calling in police to address run-of-the-mill disciplinary issues. These initiatives, she declared, would help replace the current “school-to-prison pipeline” with one running from “cradle to college.” She also branded the problem not just an educational issue, but also one of civil rights.
Her speech also touched briefly and without details on the role her husband’s administration had played in increasing prison populations, saying that the nation needed to heed “past lessons” of “what doesn’t work” in dealing with crime, including the fact that some past policies “didn’t resolve problems” or even “ended up creating new ones.” Clinton’s critics, including some in the black community, point to the Clinton administration’s support for making federal sentences for crack cocaine a hundred times greater than those applying to powdered forms of the drug, and its support for a “three strikes” law bringing life imprisonment sentences for third-time offenders.
The proposal to help minority students succeed academically and in avoiding being caught up in the criminal justice system was only the newest feature of a much broader program that the presidential candidate outlined in the speech in Harlem. Her overall program to overcome what she described as the nation’s “reality of systemic racism” carries a price tag she estimates at $125 billion, and includes a $20 billion for job training programs for minority youth, $25 billion in incentives for businesses in underserved areas, and $5 billion for programs designed to help ex-offenders re-enter society after they are released from incarceration.
Christopher Zoukis is the author of College for Convicts: The Case for Higher Education in American Prisons (McFarland & Co., 2014) and Prison Education Guide (Prison Legal News Publishing, 2016). He can be found online at ChristopherZoukis.com, PrisonEducation.com and PrisonLawBlog.com