Local NewsRaising The Bar


Las Vegas organizations working to stop school-to-prison pipeline

Posted at 11:39 AM, Oct 18, 2018
and last updated 2018-10-19 00:11:23-04

Nevadans spent twice as much money to house a single prisoner than they did to send a student to school, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau in 2016.

In the latest story of our special series "Raising the Bar," 13 Action News looks at how education is playing a role in our growing prison system and what the Clark County School District and community organizations are doing to stop the "school-to-prison" pipeline.

Arnijia Smith is an example of a student in CCSD that excelled in the classroom and played sports.

"I've always been really smart and good at school," Smith said.

It wasn't until high school that Smith saw her life and attitude changing.

"I saw myself getting in trouble here and there in high school," Smith said. "Fights."

So many fights that she almost landed herself in jail.

"I'm not the type of person to go to jail like at all and I definitely knew that I needed some help," Smith said.

It was her pastor that stepped in and eventually referred her to The Harbor, a juvenile assessment center run by Clark County.

"She was very quiet so I think it took some time to warm up," said Cheryl Wright, a board member for The Harbor.

The Harbor works daily with teens like Smith to keep them out of the juvenile detention system and instead puts students through diversion programs and counseling.

"Not all kids need to be in the courtroom or need to be in the juvenile justice system," Wright said. "We are arming kids and parents with the tools that can help them so they don't escalate into these system."

Their formula for discipline has worked not only for Smith but for 5,000 families since they first opened its doors just under two years ago.

"Sometimes it takes that extra push," Smith said.

While The Harbor is doing great work on the ground level over at the school district, administrators are also working to reevaluate the way they discipline children in hopes of breaking the school-to-prison pipeline.

"Doing what we know doesn't work makes no sense at all so we're doing things differently," said Dr. Tammy Malich, assistant superintendent of education services for CCSD.

The district has been referring students to courtrooms for years. In 2017, there were reportedly more than 8,000 referrals by school police to the courts across CCSD -- meaning a student was either cited or arrested. But it's a cycle Malich says she wants to end.

"Once a kid touches the juvenile justice system they generally stay connected to it, unfortunately," she said.

A new discipline program is being rolled out throughout CCSD known as the Clark County School Justice Partnership. The goal is to keep kids in the classroom through behavioral programs and out of the justice system if they commit non-violent misdemeanors.

"The greatest diversionary tactic to keep a young person out of the justice system is a high school diploma," Malich said.

Malich said the more we work to keep our students out of the prison system the less money the community will hopefully spend on jail cells and instead in classrooms.

"So that we're not using our tax dollars to support them that they are instead wage earners paying into our taxes which is beneficial to the entire community," she said.

What is Raising The Bar?

Together with parents, educators, business and community leaders, 13 Action News will lead the discussion on improving education in Southern Nevada. We will connect families with solutions that empower our community to build a foundation for a successful future. If you have a story idea, email us at raisingthebar@ktnv.com.