Before I begin I am putting a link up here so that readers can see what the PREA is and what it does: http://nicic.gov/prea
I want to begin by saying that this act was put into place due to the suicides of offenders in the penal system because their pleas for help after being assaulted and/or raped were largely ignored. In Texas, one high-ranking administrator was fired after an offender tried to report an incident to him said, “Well, nobody told you to come to prison.” The young man had written detailed letters home to his family about the violence he endured and the last letter written detailed why he was killing himself.
Now let me tell you how the PREA is used to prevent suicides:
1. When an assault (whether rape is involved or not), an offender is placed in protective custody and an investigation ensues. Often the offender will not talk about it for fear of retaliation regardless of housing. News travels faster in prison than it does on a television network. Often offenders know when some riot is about to kick off LONG before anyone else does–on units OTHER than their own.
2. Once in protective custody, the offender is offered counseling, alternative housing, and in extreme cases, unit to unit transfer. Some of these are offender “trade-offs” where two offenders can be switched out in different states to complete sentences.
3. When an offender is suicidal, he/she is IMMEDIATELY taken into protective custody and placed in a cell with a suicide blanket only. Nothing the offender can harm himself/herself with is placed in that cell. Within 24-48 hours on most units, the offender is then sent to a hospital equipped with psychiatric facilities. Not all offenders who threaten suicide have been raped or sexually assaulted. Many are bullied for commissary items, money, etc…They are given the same protections as an offender who is a sexual offender when this gets reported.
4. It provides stiff penalties for staff members who either fail to report such incidents listed above, within 2 hours of the incident becoming known, OR face any number of disciplinary consequences. It also provides that officers MUST count LIVING, BREATHING bodies–even at night when doing cell counts. If someone looks like they are asleep, they must wake them–PERIOD. If an offender is found dead on the next shift, the autopsy will reveal how long he/she was deceased and there is no excuse for failing to attempt waking an offender during count time at night. They must also make sure that the OFFENDER is in the cell and hasn’t escaped by waking them up as well. Yes, offenders do stuff pillows and mattresses in their bunk and try to break out.
Now let’s see how this can be applied to the school systems in this country, given the fact that many students now come from families with members who are locked up and/or are part of a gang affiliation. In fact, children’s visits to a prison should be very limited. I would say no more than once a month for a child visitor. There are too many sexual predators running around. Families would raise hell at first, but it is not the correctional officer’s job to baby-sit.
As far as school districts go, the barriers that prevent law enforcement from prosecuting these bullying cases need to be removed. Here is how this can be done while expanding the PREA to the public education system.
1. With the growing number of children of gang affiliated families on campus, the school officials need to be aware of who these students are AND if they are involved in gang activity. To that end, law enforcement officials, child protective services and the districts need to work together to reduce the impact such families have in the education system if they are known to be involved in illegal activities. A true zero tolerance policy should always include automatic suspension and/or expulsion of students engaging in gang activity and/or illegal activity on campus. In short, if they can face free world charges for what they pull at school, then the school district should be REQUIRED to report the activities within 2-4 hours of the details becoming known–unless it can endanger students and teachers–then it should be REQUIRED to bring in the authorities.
2. If a student is suicidal or is suspected to be suffering from depression due to being bullied–either at school and/or online, the district should be required to immediately get these students to the school counselors so that they can make appropriate referrals to mental health services. Parents should be notified IMMEDIATELY if this is the case–in a letter and/or in person via a conference.
3. If a student is known to have been bullied, it is the bullies that should be punished and NEVER, EVER, EVER the victim. If the incident involves a sexual assault, then offer the victim a campus to campus transfer option–even if it means the student will go to school in another district. Make the bullies be put in different schools rather than their target(s) when possible. By breaking the social unit of these bullies up, the chances of the student being bullied again go down slightly. Those who commit violent acts on campus should get an automatic jail sentence AFTER the time spent in juvenile facilities if applicable.
4. Eliminate lunch detention (especially if not held in a classroom rather than the cafeteria) and mass movement at lunch. Why? To many gang kids, lunch detention is a badge of honor–much like when an offender gets sent to medium to high custody is. They will continue to socialize anyway, throw gang signs and act up at lunch, so it does no good. This is behavior mimicked in prisons too. The problem with mass movement is that things can get out of hand there too. At the elementary level, have carts with DISPOSABLE trays and utensils taken to the classrooms. Using disposable trays will cut costs of excessive water usage. After they finish eating, let them go to “reading circle” or go to the playground a bit if weather permits. This will cut some of the garbage that goes on during movement–because it will be almost ELIMINATED. To enforce a good lunch detention (if a district MUST have that) a separate classroom with cubicles needs to be used for this.
5. At the upper grade levels (8-12) close campuses for lunch. That way stuff isn’t being brought in as much for them to “sell” and trade.
6. Go to uniforms!!!! This is important! That way gang students have a harder time locating each other. Crime rates on campuses with this policy in place have seen crime rates drop by as much as 85% in some districts! This isn’t about a students’ rights or respecting individuals’ rights–it is about protecting others in a system that is greatly flawed. No wonder teachers burn out within 5 years in many states…
7. Give teachers the authority to take the classroom back. Have them trained in self-defense if they want and/or make PMAB training mandatory so that they can restrain students who are out of control. This training is used to teach others how to properly restrain people who are out of control so that they don’t get hurt and it does come in handy for students who are prone to getting out of control.
No solution is perfect but it has to begin somewhere and to me, that place lies within the PREA. The links below are to other articles related to this issue. Not all of them involve school bullying, but all the bullying in society needs to be brought to a halt! Many of these were reported on other networks as well. Thank you for your time.