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Bill Takes Aim at Utah's School-to-Prison Pipeline Problem

houstondwiPhotos mp via Creative Commons

New legislation that could disrupt Utah’s so-called school-to-prison pipeline got final approval from the House of Representatives Monday. Lawmakers on both sides of the political aisle are hoping there’s enough time for the Senate to consider the bill before the session ends Thursday. 

Ammon Mauga is a school resource officer with the Salt Lake City Police Department. He says he spends most of the day at West High school hanging out with students. But some days, he deals with vandalism and drug possession, mostly marijuana.

“When I first got into the position, I was asked to tell kids to follow the dress code,” Mauga says. “They wanted us to tell kids to get to class. But I told the administration, no, I can’t do that. That’s not my job.”

That worries Democratic State Representative Sandra Hollins who says school disciplinary action puts kids in contact with the criminal justice system at an early age.

“The school to prison pipeline issue is one that fundamentally effects students and their families but also the state of Utah’s economy and criminal justice expenditures,” Hollins says.

The school-to-prison pipeline issue is one that fundamentally affects students and their families but also the state of Utah's economy and criminal justice expenditures. -Representative Sandra Hollins (D)

Hollins’ bill HB 460 clearly defines the role of school resource officers, which is to intervene only when a student commits a criminal act.

Senate sponsor and Republican Daniel Thatcher says the bill will probably get unanimous support in the Senate if time allows.

“It gets education working with community groups working with law enforcement to solve the school to prison pipeline,” Thatcher says. “And I think this is the only way we’re going to tackle an issue that size.”

According to a 2014 report from the University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law that looked at the school-to-prison pipeline in Utah, American Indian students are three and a half times more likely to be disciplined than other racial groups. Black students are disciplined three times more often than expected and Hispanic students are disciplined one and a half times more often than expected.  

Whittney Evans grew up southern Ohio and has worked in public radio since 2005. She has a communications degree from Morehead State University in Morehead, Kentucky, where she learned the ropes of reporting, producing and hosting. Whittney moved to Utah in 2009 where she became a reporter, producer and morning host at KCPW. Her reporting ranges from the hyper-local issues affecting Salt Lake City residents, to state-wide issues of national interest. Outside of work, she enjoys playing the guitar and getting to know the breathtaking landscape of the Mountain West.
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