Zakhquery Price and the Danger of Incarcerating Our Youth
Zakhquery Price is an eleven year old special needs fifth grader.  Despite his disability and struggles in school, the district had ignored repeated efforts from Zak's grandmother to obtain IEP supports to improve his educational options and manage his behavioral difficulties.
During a typical school day in October, Zak had a behavioral tantrum in class. It has been reported that while in mid-tantrum, he was cornered and “taken down” by school staff in an unspecified restraint technique. He fought back and allegedly caused insignificant injuries to the staff involved.
For most, this story sounds like a special education intervention gone awry. When things like this happen, it is usual policy to for school administration to call an immediate IEP meeting, where an emergency Behavior Support Plan is created and plans for an in depth Functional Behavior Assessment (FBA) are made.
However, instead of a supportive intervention, the police were called and school staff filed felony charges against Zak, an autistic child.
Dictionary.com defines felony as:
an offense, as murder or burglary, of graver character than those called misdemeanors, esp. those commonly punished in the U.S. by imprisonment for more than a year.
While we can certainly speculate as to the severity of the incident, it is unfathomable that any charges, let alone felony charges, would be appropriate. Should Zakhquery be convicted of this or even a lessor crime, the outcome could have catastrophic results for his future. It has been studied that children who are referred to the Juvenile Justice System have permanent barriers in place that negatively affect them through adulthood.
 Students who enter the juvenile justice system face many barriers blocking their re-entry into traditional schools, and can be haunted by their criminal records later in life. The vast majority of juvenile justice-involved students never graduate from high school, and may be denied student loans, public housing or occupational licenses because of their prior criminal records.
Conversely, it has been documented that schools who provide Positive Behavior Support to all students, have no need for such measures. The Technical Assistance Center on Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (TAC-PBIS), established by the Office of Special Education Programs, US Department of Education has been attempting to encourage all US public schools to implement School Wide Positive Behavior Support.
 Research has shown that the implementation of punishment, especially when it is used inconsistently and in the absence of other positive strategies, is ineffective. Introducing, modeling, and reinforcing positive social behavior is an important step of a student's educational experience. Teaching behavioral expectations and rewarding students for following them is a much more positive approach than waiting for misbehavior to occur before responding. The purpose of school-wide PBS is to establish a climate in which appropriate behavior is the norm.
Despite the efforts of the TAC-PBIS, few public schools have adopted School Wide Positive Behavior Support. Many districts have failed to adopted PBIS for their special needs students. Instead, there continues to be a troubling pattern of public schools using the justice system to wash their hands of behaviorally challenging children. Numerous studies have cited that the prevalence of special needs in prisons is extremely high. It has also been speculated that the number of Autistics in prison is much higher in the prison population than in the general population.
 Although studies that have examined the prevalence of autism in the offender population are limited, estimates are that the prevalence rate of autism is much higher in the offender population than in the general population.
This presents a troubling question to our society. Are our public schools responsible for the large number of incarcerations? The ACLU seems to think so.
The ACLU defines this as the “School to Prison Pipeline” which is  “a disturbing national trend wherein children are funneled out of public schools and into the juvenile and criminal justice systems.”
Zakhquery Price's case is scheduled for court on January 12, 2010. As of today, despite multiple calls and emails from national advocacy organizations, the school has not dropped the felony charges.
For now, we wait with bated breath to see if little Zak is destine to become a statistic in the United States penal system.
ACTION ALERT: Fight Inappropriate Restraint - Free Zakh Price!
RACIAL JUSTICE | EDUCATION: School-to-Prison Pipeline