Clayton County, Georgia had quite a challenge on its hands.
In the early 2000s, one of the county’s most glaring issues was the school-to-prison pipeline phenomenon transpiring right before the eyes of school officials and other community stakeholders. The rate of referrals to juvenile court was steadily increasing and had a direct impact on the school district and community. Ninety-two percent of juvenile court referrals resulted in youth being charged with misdemeanor offenses and/or sentenced to jail or detention as a result of relatively minor infractions. Additionally, the relapse rate of juveniles charged with committing offenses was an astounding 70 percent, exacerbating an already dire situation.
A majority of these referrals had one consistent thread — they were young men of color.
Clayton County is located at the southern point of metro Atlanta, included in a cluster of counties considered the Southern Crescent. It is Georgia’s fifth largest county by population and houses the fifth largest school district. Historically, Clayton County has battled, with higher rates of chronic disease, racial disparity and poverty, and lower rates of educational attainment.
In 2003, the number of school arrests in Clayton County had reached an all-time high: 1,229 in the academic school year. Clayton County’s Juvenile Justice Chief Judge and the superintendent of Clayton County Public Schools came together to find a solution. The result was the creation of a School-Justice Partnership to engage the community in achieving effective, sustainable outcomes for Clayton County youth and families.
The partnership implemented a coordinated System of Care framework to build a safe, healthy, educated, work-ready youth population that in turn would promote a thriving community.
Taking a proactive, holistic approach
The System of Care’s school intervention program is intended to identify middle-school aged youth who display disruptive behavior in school and provide specific individualized interventions to correct the behavior. School counselors and teachers are trained to utilize a set of specific criteria to identify such youth.
The System of Care staff then engage one of their long-term service providers to facilitate the Child & Adolescent Needs and Strengths (CANS) trauma assessment. A cross-functional team of experts develops a treatment plan detailing the appropriate level of intervention(s) for each individual. These interventions include substance abuse counseling, mental health counseling, mentorship, academic remediation and structured out-of-school time activities.
With 80 percent of participating youth showing evidence of having experienced some level of trauma, the System of Care program has allowed schools to provide an important support network to keep students in school while addressing their barriers to academic success. Among program participants, there were significant improvements in academic performance, the number of unexcused absences and in-school discipline referrals.
By targeting in-school incidents that typically resulted in school arrests, the partnership was able to achieve an immediate drop in school arrest rates by nearly 25 percent within just one year. By year five, school arrest rates were down 75 percent, and by year 10 the arrest rates were under 100 youth per year for the first time since 1996.
Shared goals for thriving school communities
Through community benefit investments, Kaiser Permanente seeks to address the root causes of poor health and provide services to support healthier lifestyles, especially to underserved communities. The programs we support reduce health disparities, increase the capacity of safety net organizations, develop and promote healthy communities, and share health information. Our work in metro Atlanta centers around enhancing people’s health and well-being, especially those who may be at risk due to age, ethnicity or socio-economic status.
Kaiser Permanente has been proud to support the incredible efforts undertaken by the School-Justice Partnership. We have done so through close collaboration in building the System of Care’s school intervention program and through our financial support. By working in partnership with Clayton County schools and the county’s juvenile justice system, we are creating long-term, sustainable changes that can ultimately put an end to the school-to-prison pipeline and strengthen the lifetime success of young people.