Cycle of punishment paves pathway from school to jail - WDRB 41 Louisville News

Cycle of punishment paves pathway from school to jail

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Single parent homes. Parents in prison. No stability. No money. This is the way some children are living in Louisville.

Christel Tribble was the subject of a PBS documentary. She is now in a court ordered GED program, but her attendance is shaky.

Our interview was interrupted several times by neighbors. After a few minutes with her, it's easy to see why her education takes a back seat to survival.

"You see people [prostituting]... it's a bunch of (expletive)," Tribble said. "I don't even care. It's just the simple fact that if you go outside, it's going to affect you one way or another."

She's been suspended for assaulting classmates, arrested for fighting JCPS staff and has racked up probation violations for truancy, because she won't go to school. She punched an assistant principal at Buechel, set off a torch at Ballard, and still believes it's no big deal.

"Most people I know have been arrested seven to ten times and I've only been arrested three times," Tribble explained. "I don't feel like that's a lot."

Tribble overdosed two years ago and spent time in a mental hospital.

"I don't even think nothing would help. Not for real," she said.

She wears a bracelet that says hope, but somewhere along the way, this 17-year-old girl lost it for herself. When asked if she had any dreams for her future, Tribble gave a heartbreaking reply.

"I don't have any dreams," she said as she began to cry.

This is the face of the 2,500: the children arrested or charged for trouble in JCPS are marked by anger, sadness, and lashing out.

Prosecutor Chris Brown, who heads Jefferson County's Juvenile Courts Division, explains that the County Attorney's Office began tracking the numbers about three years ago.

"We took a look at the number of cases we were getting from the school system, and frankly, we felt there were a number of alternatives to court," Brown said.

The numbers capture the urgent need for change. JCPS suspended 316 students in the last three years for fighting or striking staff members. They issued an additional 1,037 suspensions for weapons at school.

Last school year, suspensions dropped by 3.5 percent, or about 500 fewer incidents overall. Still, a disturbing number of students remain on the cycle of consistent school punishment that leads to drop-outs, and eventually ends behind bars.

"We don't want our first reaction to be putting them into court," Brown said. "That's why a restorative justice program or diversion helps identify the services that they might need, that they're not getting counseling or remedial education. Our goal is to identify those instead of bringing them into juvenile court."

Court is not the goal of the juvenile justice system, but far too often, it is the outcome.

The city's prosecutors have more than doubled the number of cases going to diversion. There were 130 fewer cases last school year, but the city's not keeping track of the success of its alternative programs.

"We don't have recidivism numbers," Brown explained. "We don't track those."

And kids like Tribble keep sliding back into the system.

"You get used to it," Tribble said when asked about the experience of being locked up. "[The kids who repeat offenses] come from difficult circumstances," Brown said.

Tribble has no relationship with her father. He's been in and out of prison. Her mother told WDRB News' Gilbert Corsey directly that she wants her daughter out of her house.

On the morning of our interview, Tribble awakened to officers and an arrest warrant. Her mother reported a probation violation because Tribble kept her six-year-old sister out overnight and didn't call, but their home has no electricity.

All of that being said, Tribble's circumstances do not dismiss her actions. They do, however, offer perspective on why she's acting out and show how the troubles of the 2,500 can affect the masses.

"It all depends on who your momma is, what school you go to, and how you're living," Tribble said.

"Yes, there's certainly those challenges where I'm spending more time disciplining and not as much time teaching the material I need to teach," said Staci Russell, a teacher at Meyzeek Middle School. 

Russell has been teaching for 10 years in JCPS classrooms in some of Louisville's poorest schools.

"I think they forget the line between child and adult because they do feel like adults -- they're exposed to and see so many adult things," she said.

Next school year, JCPS discipline will become more compassionate. Changes in the student code of conduct aim for more second chances. The district also plans to hire 15 mental health counselors embracing the cries of students like Tribble, many of whom are dealing with unimaginable difficulties at home.

Tribble turns 18 in nine months, and if she has one hope left, it's to break free.

"I am going to have my own life. I'm going to finish school and then I'll be done. I can live my own life and not to listen to nobody but me," she declared. 

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