Robert Ives has spent 14 of his 31 years in Minnesota’s state prison system. The Lino Lakes prison where he serves time now also houses a program for young men who have been certified to serve prison time as adults.

This has made him think about another major institution in his life, the public schools.

He says the “problem is that many inner-city schools resemble and operate a lot like prisons. What is even more disturbing is that this injustice has gone mostly ignored or unnoticed for years now.” The policies adopted in public school systems over the past few decades “segregate and criminalize students, producing imprisoned minds before these kids’ brains are even fully developed. These strategies have established what is now termed the School-to-Prison Pipeline.”

Ives speaks from his own experience at Anderson Open School in south Minneapolis where he was confined to a section of the school called “Anderson D,” or “The Rock,” the place where special education students were segregated.

He says:

The troubling part, however, is that it was not just a moniker. When you were deemed to be “acting up,” unlike most schools where you would maybe be sent to the principal’s office, here you were placed in a cell. Yes, they had an area that actually consisted of rooms with doors on them that bore a strong resemblance to a prison cell. They would temporarily place you in them until, in their opinion, you had “calmed down.”

These children, including myself, faced cruel and unusual punishment before we even made it through maturity! There is also Harrison School in North Minneapolis that hasn’t graduated a student in years. It has become more like a warehouse for the system until these kids are either old enough or do something serious enough to go to prison.

Most kids placed in these special education or alternative school environments are placed there under the diagnoses of Emotional Behavior Disorders. If these children suffer from a clinical diagnosis, they shouldn’t be sent somewhere that encourages more antisocial behaviors.

There has to be a better solution, but so far the state hasn’t been able to come up with one that makes sense. Their tactic has been to take kids considered delinquent, like those who skip school, and arrest them for truancy. This solution results in their names being entered into the system, officially beginning the School-to-Prison Pipeline.

The school Ives mentions, Harrison Education Center, is subject to a complaint by community activists to the Department of Justice for operating like a “mini-prison.” Prior to the complaint the children in Harrison suffered alone, without much attention to their conditions.

While the public talks about reforming public schools, they often miss point. Current practices that directly link schools to jails and crush the dreams of our youth should be abolished, not reformed, reimagined, or tweaked.

“We are far overdue for an overhaul that would focus more attention on coming up with a positive solution for our youth,” Ive says.

“Maybe, instead of dehumanizing and marginalizing their personality, character and individuality into a six-digit [prison] number, they could perhaps be propelled on a more successful trajectory in life.”


Read the full story at The Minneapolis Spokesman Recorder.

Chris Stewart is the Chief Executive Officer of Education Post, a media project of the Results in Education Foundation. He is a lifelong activist and 20-year supporter of nonprofit and education-related causes. Stewart has served as the director of outreach and external affairs for Education Post, the executive director of the African American Leadership Forum (AALF), and an elected member of the Minneapolis Public Schools Board of Education.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here