Tarsha Jackson had her first encounter with the juvenile justice system when her son Marquieth was just 10 years old. In his special education classroom in Harris County, Texas Marquieth received a ticket for classroom disruption. It was his first day of school and marked the beginning of what would be a decade-long struggle with the juvenile justice system. By age 16, Marquieth had spent a total of five years in juvenile prisons.
School was a struggle for Marquieth. In his special education classroom, his teachers were not sensitive to Marquieth’s needs and they dealt with behavioral disruptions poorly. Tarsha recalls that few issues were handled internally, with teachers frequently bringing the police in. When he was 10, Marquieth was charged with assault for accidentally kicking a teacher while being restrained. He was placed on 6 months’ probation. After several school conduct violations and two probation violations Marquieth was referred to detention with no expected release date. During his confinement, Tarsha was not allowed to see or speak to her son for 30 days. It was horrifying. Tarsha paid a local advocate $50 dollars to check on Marquieth’s case; he was released from detention 1 week after the advocates’ inquiry.
At age 11, Marquieth received his third violation for allegedly breaking a window at a neighborhood pool. Knowing that what he had “done” did not warrant his being locked up, Tarsha launched a fierce campaign to keep her son out of prison. She recruited her son’s doctors to write letters about his condition, she created a plan of treatment, and brought her family in to advocate. Before her son’s court date, unbeknownst to Tarsha, the court attorney and the probation officer went before a visiting judge with no knowledge of the case. Afterwards, they called Tarsha to inform her that Marquieth had been sentenced to nine months in the Texas Juvenile Justice Department.
The experience of the Jackson family is a tragic example of the school-to-prison pipeline in Texas. To provide some background, in 1995 school discipline laws in Texas were overhauled with the intent of reducing potential violence on campuses. Zero tolerance policies were adopted statewide, which allowed administrators to use suspension, referral to alternative education programs, and law enforcement at their own discretion—which has in many cases resulted in a criminalization of normal student misbehavior. According to the NAACP from their site, “Rather than employ traditional disciplinary measures, such as counseling or detention, when students misbehave, schools are becoming increasingly dependent on suspensions, expulsions, and law enforcement to punish students.” Disproportionally affected by these zero-tolerance policies are students of color and those with developmental disabilities.
Things were bad as soon as Marquieth was committed to the Texas Youths Commission. According to Tarsha, her son, who had been medicated since he was three, was immediately taken off his medications and put in an isolation cell. Also according to Tarsha, a scuffle with the guards, who were armed with shields, resulted in a ½ inch chin laceration and impacted wisdom teeth for Marquieth (see hospital records below). Tarsha says that while he was in TYC, her son received virtually no mental health treatment. For the next 3 1/2 years he bounced around between institutions in the Texas Youth Commission.
Tune in for part 2 tomorrow morning. (and consider subscribing to the blog HERE to receive posts in your email inbox)
For Tarsha and other parents out there fighting against a system employing punitive practices and unjust punishment, share this article with friends and family and encourage them to share to their circles. Spreading awareness is the first step in taking action. Then, visit our Take Action page to find out what else you can do.
If you are a family with a child in the system and you are seeking advice or assistance, please get in contact with Justice For Families, They can be reached via email at zachary AT justice4families DOT org or via phone at (510) 268 6941. Justice For Families is a national alliance of local organizations that can provide emotional and logistical support for court hearings, advocacy support to enable families to obtain the best services for their loved ones, and engage families in policy campaigns to change systemic failures in the juvenile justice system. Another excellent resource is the Campaign for Youth Justice’s Family Resource Center, which offers guidance, valuable information, and opportunities for advocacy.
If you are a family that would like to share your story with us, please email us at: info AT juvenile-in-justice.com