Incarcerate or education

Are our children being pushed into prison?

Carla St.Louis | 1/30/2014, 9 a.m.
In 1993, Debra Mayes Pane witnessed a phenomenon that changed the course of her professional career. While teaching at Teaching ...

After being arrested and receiving counseling from family members and loved ones, Whitaker became highly aware that in order to succeed in life he needed to return to school, despite having internalized the classroom bias placed on him.

“If you are treated like a criminal from an early age, it will become a self-fulfilling prophecy,” said Whitaker. “Black males are especially vulnerable because of their negative portrayal in the media and the lack of positive role models."

He continued: "A 5-year-old Black boy without a father to teach him how to be a man could internalize his treatment in school and portrayal in the media as acceptable behavior. It is the reason why young Black males without a high school diploma are more likely to have a criminal record than steady employment.”

Once he obtained his diploma, Whitaker went on to complete four other college degrees in educational psychology and law despite being labeled a “throwaway.”

He later started Project Knucklehead, a non-profit organization with after school and anti- juvenile delinquency programs throughout Florida and California to help youths whom are enthralled with or vulnerable to it.

“The STPP is the reason why America is not a democracy for Black males in Florida because nearly one out of three Black males are unable to vote due to their criminal record,” said Whitaker. “It is part of the system of mass incarceration that leaves many Black children fatherless. It causes youth to further perpetuate and glorify prison culture because of its dominance in our community.” 

What is the prison industrial complex?

According to Fedrick Ingram, president of the United Teachers of Dade (UTD), the prison industrial complex is the underlying outcome of the school-to-prison pipeline.

He placed the concept into perspective by explaining its cyclical relationship between the private prison industry, big business in Florida and Black male youths.

“It’s influenced by CEOs who own prisons and profiteers,” said Ingram referring to the trajectory. “Everything is influenced by money, and unfortunately, Tallahassee is being influenced by big business. The private prison industry is big business in South Florida. Most of the federal prisons in the state are privately owned, and if they are privately owned someone is in Tallahassee lobbying to keep them open. The private prison industry uses a mathematical equation to build prison beds off of third grade retention rates, rates that are decided upon a test. Someone is paying for that test. It’s all interlinked — just follow the money.”

Payne’s reply echoed Ingram’s comment. “I think that the prison complex is partially to blame but also is part of the “solution” to the problem for those who criminalize or stereotype Black males in school and society,” said Payne.

According to findings by the Community Coalition, 68 percent of all males in state and federal prison do not have a high school diploma.

“We should be providing different pathways for children to succeed as opposed to one that spells failure for some,” said Ingram. “We must accept that some kids are going to go different routes in order to achieve success whether its through vocational school, and we as a community should support them. We have to provide avenues that say to kids that they can succeed and then we have to tangibly show them that they can.”