Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer

In the state of California approximately 56,000 youth are arrested every year, two-thirds of those arrests are for status offenses or misdemeanors such as: truancy, running away from home, curfew violation, underage drinking, and the alarmingly vague “incorrigibility.” Approximately 8 out of 10 youth arrested are referred to probation and of these youth, a quarter of them are detained, ultimately contributing to the School to Prison Pipeline.

Research has shown that non-detention alternatives, particularly for low-level offenses, are a more appropriate response to curbing delinquent behavior and will avoid pushing youth deeper into the juvenile justice system. Most importantly, communities that have diversion programs show improved outcomes for youth and public safety. Thus more funding for diversion and after school programs is vital for our at-promise youth.

As Chair of the Assembly Public Safety Committee and the Select Committee on ending the School to Prison Pipeline, I am committed to finding solutions that keep our children in schools and away from the justice system. However, dismantling the school to prison pipeline is a responsibility for everyone, our children are our future and we must all commit to investing in their future.

As a state, there is a collaborative liability for educating our children, not incarcerating them. That is why last year I authored legislation to create the “Schools Not Prisons” voluntary contribution tax fund. This new law will allow an opportunity for taxpayers to make a tax deductible donation to programs that help end the school-to-prison pipeline and give our at-promise youth opportunities and the tools they need to live a successful life.

Donations made to the “Schools Not Prisons” fund are tax deductible charitable donations that will fund nonprofit programs for disadvantaged youth through competitive grants. Grants will be awarded to programs that advance youth leadership, community organizing, life skills, workforce readiness and mentorship.

More community based organizations need the support and additional funding to assist children in disadvantaged communities avoid the criminal justice system. Improve Your Tomorrow (IYT) is a program that creates a pathway for young men of color to attend and graduate from colleges and universities. IYT started servicing only 7 students, and now serves over 1000 young men of color through a variety of academic programs in the Sacramento. Programs like IYT should be the norm and not a privilege mirrored across the Golden State.

With a population of nearly 40 million Californians, we can invest millions of dollars in diverting our youth from the criminal justice system if we all donate at least one dollar during this tax season.

On your tax returns locate the check-off box and donate to “Schools Not Prisons” on the final page of your personal income tax form. I hope you will join me in dismantling the school to prison pipeline because it’s time we stop locking up are children and start investing in their future.