(MintPress) – In December 2012, a teenager was arrested for drug possession at a Temecula, California public high school. The story would be mundane were it not for the fact that the student was a special needs autistic youth framed by an undercover police officer. The unnamed boy was on an array of legally prescribed medications, […]
(MintPress) – In December 2012, a teenager was arrested for drug possession at a Temecula, California public high school. The story would be mundane were it not for the fact that the student was a special needs autistic youth framed by an undercover police officer.
The unnamed boy was on an array of legally prescribed medications, but no illegal drugs were found on him at the time of the arrest. After the boy failed to return home from school on December 11, his parents frantically called the school only to be given vague details about his arrest hours earlier.
The student had never been in any previous disciplinary trouble nor did he have a criminal record. The source of the problem was a new friend simply known as “Daniel,” who later turned out to be a police informant.
The bust was part of a broader police drug sweep, allegedly an investigation into allegations of widespread drug soliciting at area high schools. The December 11 incident resulted in the arrests of 22 students at three Temecula high schools.
“During the time that elapsed between his arrest and our learning of the arrest, our son had been interrogated, without having been allowed to contact us. And of course he had no attorney present,” said Doug Snodgrass, the father of the learning disabled student.
The youth remains at risk of expulsion from all area schools despite his disability and lack of credible evidence showing that he was involved in any illicit activity.
His case highlights a set of failed education policies creating a school-to-prison pipeline that criminalizes student behavior without taking a more nuanced approach to understanding disabilities, poverty and individual student needs.
Instead of using public funds to improve special education, millions of taxpayer dollars are funneled into juvenile detention facilities, exacerbating the underlying problems rather than working to solve them.
“Many of these children have learning disabilities or histories of poverty, abuse or neglect, and would benefit from additional educational and counseling services,” writes The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Racial Justice Program in an online post. “‘Zero Tolerance’ policies criminalize minor infractions of school rules, while high stakes testing programs encourage educators to push out low performing students to improve their schools’ overall test scores.”
There are now more than 70,000 incarcerated youth in the U.S. and more than 500,000 that pass in and out of detention facilities in any given year. However, these numbers do not reflect the increased numbers of youth tried and convicted as adults.
Although comprising 8.6 percent of the general student population, students with disabilities make up 32 percent of the youth prison population.