‘School to prison pipeline’ discusses juvenile justice system

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Dr. Bill Bush is a self-proclaimed three-time college dropout.

By Pam Paz

An administrator at Texas A&M University-San Antonio will discuss his findings on the juvenile justice system and the value of historical research in a presentation at 1 p.m. Thursday sponsored by the Honors Academy at this college.

Dr. Bill Bush, history professor and humanities and social sciences chair, will present “The ‘School to Prison Pipeline’: Where did it come from?” in Room 122 of Chance Academic Center.

He said in an interview Tuesday he wants students to learn what they can do with historical research much as he used historical research to explore youth culture.

“Students want history to have some direct relevance to things that are going on in the world right now and that are important to them,” he said.

The goal of the juvenile system, which started in Chicago in 1899 and came to Texas in 1907, was to keep children out of the criminal justice system, he said.

Bush became interested in youth culture during graduate studies at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas.

He said he thought he understood youth culture during this time because he was relatively young.

“In studying youth culture, the question I think I was most interested in is how do we come to think of certain youth culture as bad or dangerous,” he said.

Bush said the juvenile justice system was a popular idea and was one of the “leading legal exports of the U.S.”

In more recent decades, a turn toward punishing juveniles and not protecting them from the criminal justice system has fueled the ‘school to prison pipeline,’ he said.

Bush argues the cause of the school to prison pipeline cannot be understood without understanding the history of the juvenile justice system and its “fraught history with race.”

The zero tolerance policy is one of the elements of the ‘school to prison pipeline.’ It became popular across the country during the 1990s and mandated a series of sanctions for violations of school discipline codes, Bush said.

He said the policies have been disproportionately applied to non-white students.

“The system, while built on lofty goals, never lived up to them and never has. Leading defenders will admit that,” he said.

Bush hopes to send the message that a protected childhood is something that every child deserves but not all children receive.

Bush is a three-time community college dropout. After a four year absence from college, he enrolled at the University of New Orleans where discovered his strong interest in history. He graduated with a bachelor of arts in history in 1995.

He received a master of arts in history at the University of Nevada- Las Vegas in 1997 and a doctorate in American studies at the University of Texas at Austin in 2004.

Bush was the first history faculty hired at Texas A&M University-San Antonio in 2008.

Since then, the department has grown to four full-time history faculty. The number of history majors grew from 40 to 90; most are transfers from the Alamo Colleges.

Dr. Jonathan Lee, history professor and Honors Academy coordinator, said in a phone interview Wednesday he invited Bush to speak so he can talk to students about his research and to encourage conversations about transferring.

In 2010, Bush’s book, “Who Gets a Childhood?: Race and Juvenile Justice in Twentieth Century Texas,” was published

The lecture is open to the public.

For more information, call 210-486-1097.

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