Salt Lake City commission issues recommendations on school-to-prison pipeline, youth racial equity

City Council’s racial equity in policing advisers asks for improved funding and consistency to help at-risk students.

(Jeremy Harmon | Tribune file photo) This file photo shows Salt Lake City Hall on June 28, 2018.

Salt Lake City’s Commission on Racial Equity in Policing has released more recommendations to improve relations between the city’s residents of color and law enforcement. This time the focus is on schools.

Members of the commission shared a long list of ideas at the City Council’s Tuesday work session to improve the city’s role in helping kids perform better in school and stay out of the juvenile justice system. Among them, creating safer spaces for at-risk youth to bond with counselors, providing consistent funding for youth programs, hiring city staff to monitor equity in education and continuing efforts to reduce officer citations issued to students of color.

On the latter point, commission member Moises Prospero offered some praise. The most recent data shared by Salt Lake City police showed student resource officers — the police officers who work in schools — issued 65 citations during the 2019-2020 school year, down from 488 citations in 2013-2014.

“That’s awesome. Basically elementary [school] citations are becoming extinct,” Prospero said.

But Prospero added that students of color continue to receive a disproportionate amount of citations. In city high schools during the 2019-2020 period, for example, Hispanic teens received 20 citations compared to two for non-Hispanic students.

“But again, there was still a lot of great effort in changing that, reducing that,” Prospero said.

Prospero said more work can be done to identify kids at risk of falling into the school-to-prison pipeline.

“Which is where we criminalize regular adolescent behavior and then refer [students] to the juvenile justice system, work through the courts, then from there, as they get deeper into the system, they eventually end up in the adult system,” Prospero said. “We’re trying to stop that as much as possible.”

The commission has recommended moving the police department’s Promising Youth Program, a gang and crime reduction program, to the city’s Youth and Family Services Division to help students feel safer and form better bonds with social workers and advocates. The program is dependent on grant funding, however, which creates uncertainty for the program.

“That soft money could disappear and all of a sudden you lose your staff,” Prospero said. “Worse, you lose the confidence of those youth really believing you’re there for them.”

The commission also recommended improved funding for the city’s peer court, where youth have committed minor crimes work with students from similar ages and backgrounds to show accountability.

“This program has been really great for many students. It gives them an opportunity to safely reflect on their actions and gives them new skills,” said commission member Rogelio Romero-Paredes. “[But] over the past couple years we’ve had issues with getting technology, getting proper training for the students and proper staffing.”

Read the full list of the commission’s school safety recommendations below.