CONWAY, SC (WBTW) – A panel of nine people met on Wednesday evening to talk about the so-called “school to prison pipeline.” 

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) says the pipeline is “a disturbing national trend wherein children are funneled out of public schools and into the juvenile and criminal justice systems. Many of these children have learning disabilities or histories of poverty, abuse, or neglect, and would benefit from additional educational and counseling services. Instead, they are isolated, punished, and pushed out.”

During the panel, hosted by Grand Strand Action Together, Horry County School Board Chairman, Joe DeFeo, admitted the pipeline exists..

“It would be pretty hard to argue that it doesn’t exist,” he said. “I know there are students, children that end up in prison before they get out of high school.” 

However, DeFeo also said student arrests have gone “way down” since the district switched from using school resource officers (SRO’s) to security guards.

“[The] SRO program has been totally mismanaged from day one,” he added. “You’ve heard me say it many times in the news media. I do not want law enforcement in our schools, I want security to keep kids safe.”

Fifteenth Circuit Solicitor, Jimmy Richardson, agreed and said the recent numbers on juvenile cases surprised him. Richardson said his office dealt with 2,472 juvenile cases in 2014 and 1,752 in 2017.

Still, the panelists felt more needs to be done in all school systems.

“You can advocate for legislation that would bring South Carolina into the [21st] century,” said Legal Director for the South Carolina ACLU, Susan Dunn. She explained one of those changes is to get rid of status offenses, or an offense which would not be a crime if it were committed by an adult. 

“That would fix a lot of the school to prison pipeline with one piece of legislation,” added Dunn.

She also addressed the SRO program and the need for more clarity of their roles in schools.

“[Schools need] a clear memorandum of understanding to make it clear if they’re going to be there, there at least needs to be some delineation on who does what,” said Dunn.

Dunn also suggested developing and funding alternatives to incarceration which will help students who may make a bad decision.

“We’ve funded courts and we fund the detention centers and we don’t fund anything in between and the community needs to get together to do that,” she added. 

Dunn is also against the disturbing schools statute and said the issue is currently in court. In a press release the ACLU said, “The ACLU found that hundreds of students — as young as 7 years old — are being charged under a far-reaching and nebulous statute for behaviors like loitering, cursing, or undefined “obnoxious” actions on school grounds. The statute also has a chilling effect on students who speak out against policing abuses within the schools. Black students are nearly four times as likely to be targeted under the law.”

To read more about this lawsuit click: here