In New York, This Funder Is Backing Alternative School Discipline Approaches

By now, it’s common knowledge that America has more incarcerated people than any other nation in the world. Youth arrests and re-arrests are a huge problem in New York City, and the Brooklyn Community Foundation launched a youth justice program to deal with these concerns on the local level. While misbehavior in school often provides the early warning signs of kids heading for trouble, punitive disciplinary policies can be counter-productive, putting kids into a "school-to-prison pipeline." 

But what if better in-school discipline could significantly deter misbehavior before it escalates to the need for legal action? Could this be the key to reducing arrests and jail time for the youth of New York? At least one funder seems to think so.

Related: Brooklyn Community Foundation: New York Grants 

BCF just announced four new grants to restorative justice groups to launch full-time, in-school discipline programs. This is part of a four-year pilot initiative with the NYC Department of Education and the Mayor’s Leadership Team on School Climate and Discipline, and the targets are Brooklyn public schools.

“We want to create a new model for school discipline that imparts value and agency to all students, and we are proud to have such esteemed and accomplished partners join this effort,” Brooklyn Community Foundation CEO Cecilia Clarke said in a press release. “Suspensions and in-school arrests are often young people’s first brush with the criminal justice system. But shouldn’t our schools should be safe and supportive environments for all students, so that they can learn and thrive? That’s what they’re there for.”

The new nonprofit grantees are Good Shepherd Services, Partnership with Children, Sweet River Consulting, and the New York Peace Institute, and each is receiving $100,000. They’ll reach both middle schools and high schools in Brooklyn to test out new alternatives to punitive disciplinary methods. The programs kick off this fall at Rachel Carson High School for Coastal Studies in Coney Island, School for Democracy and Leadership in East Flatbush, Ebbets Field Middle School in Crown Heights, and Science Skills Center High School in Downtown Brooklyn.

BCF cites successful examples of these types of programs in Oakland, West Philadelphia, and Denver, and reduced arrest statistics aren't the only results that BCF is expecting. With high hopes for these new grantees, BCF is looking for the programs to boost attendance and graduation rates while reducing the number of violence incidents in school.

The foundation’s youth justice grantmaking program is three-tiered, and the Brooklyn Restorative Justice Project is just one part of it. The other parts involve increasing economic opportunity for court-involved youth and neighborhood-based arrest diversion to provide alternatives to arrest with community engagement and accountability.

Quite a few prominent funders are backing efforts against youth incarceration these days, but this is an interesting approach that we’re interested to see play out. Again, it’s a pilot project, but it has a lot of potential nationwide if successful. Check the BCF “For Grantseekers” page for current and upcoming requests for proposals.