Educators discuss ‘school-prison’ pipeline

Young Indigenous children are not only more likely to be incarcerated, they are also more likely to be suspended or expelled from school.

More than 100 people attended a forum about Indigenous youth incarceration and education on August 8.

Discussion focused on the links between the education system and skyrocketing imprisonment rates among young Indigenous people — which the panel referred to as the “school-prison pipeline”.

Hosted by Melbourne Educators for Social and Environmental Justice (MESEJ), the meeting featured Brendan Murray, who is of Yuin and Irish descent; Gunditjmara man Seth Nolan; and Corallanne Pohlmann, a Murri woman.

All three speakers have a background in education and youth justice, including working with children and youth in custody.

Young Indigenous children are not only more likely to be incarcerated; they are also more likely to be suspended or expelled from schools. Nolan said: “We see the petty crime but not all the trauma behind the children, how the past [intergenerational trauma] catches up with them.

Pohlmann said: “We look at education as a protective factor – but why isn’t that the case for Aboriginal children?” She spoke of an 11-year-old Yorta Yorta boy who was handcuffed at school in front of classmates for “playing up”. She said teachers were too quick to call the police on young Aboriginal people, rather than creating culturally safe learning environments for them.

She stressed the strength, resilience, cultural ties and connections that Aboriginal children bring with them to school but which is not always recognised by the education system.

“Aboriginality is a protective factor”, said Pohlmann. “Our bloodlines make us strong. Justice [system] sees Aboriginality as a risk factor but teachers have a choice: choose to see Aboriginality as a strength — for the whole class, not just the Aboriginal child.”

Reflecting on the current media attack on African youths in Melbourne, speakers stressed the solidarity that exists between young Aboriginal, Islander and African people, as well as other young people of colour, in detention.

“We are solid for them, they are solid for us”, Pohlmann said.

[MESEJ will hold an organising meeting for people working in education on August 18 to discuss what can be done in schools and educational settings to address youth incarceration. For more information visit mesej.org/wp/ or email mesejforum@gmail.com.]