c2p logo10.28.20 — A Northeastern University research team is illuminating the systems that criminalize poor youth of color in order to support law reforms and hold lawmakers and agencies accountable.

Northeastern University’s Cradle-to-Prison Pipeline Project, an interdisciplinary collaboration initiated in 2019, has launched a website, cradle2prison.info, with analysis of the interplay of systems that channel Black and brown youth into jails and prisons — from the “child welfare” system to schools, juvenile courts and the systems that inflict poverty disproportionately on communities of color. The website also contains — as a result of a narrative interview collaboration with the nonprofit organization Everyday Boston’s Bridge Projectinterviews with returned citizens, who share how their lives have been impacted by these systems. The project will bring public attention to the need for proactive investments in families and communities to dismantle the pipeline.  

I was trapped in the system even before I knew what the system was. I’m telling my story because I don’t want the next young person to go through what I went through,” said Bobby Iacoviello, a returned citizen working with Everyday Boston’s Bridge Project.

“Restorative Justice afforded me the venue to unpack the impact various systems have had on me, from the cradle to prison,” reflected Armand Coleman, program coordinator for Everyday Boston’s Bridge Project. “The Northeastern Cradle-to-Prison Pipeline Project contextualized them in a manner that allowed me to understand further how they continue to impact me.”

“An underexamined aspect of the cradle to prison pipeline is how early it operates — long before school, a web of legal and social systems channel children, toddlers and infants toward future incarceration,” explained Professor Stephanie Roberts Hartung, a member of the Northeastern Law faculty and principal investigator on the project who has been surveying incarcerated people about early childhood experiences. “Seventy-two percent of children involved in the juvenile criminal system in Massachusetts were once involved in the child welfare system; more than half of child welfare-involved kids became involved under age five, and the vast majority are Black or brown. There is an urgent need for decision makers to end policies that operate to criminalize children of color.”

Tad Hirsch, Professor of Art + Design at Northeastern University, said, “One reason it is so hard to stem the flow of welfare-involved kids into the criminal justice system is sheer complexity. It can be very difficult to understand how institutions, policy, and other social forces conspire to lead kids into the criminal justice system. Visualizing these effects with maps, charts, videos and other media will help policymakers, advocates and concerned citizens make sense of the cradle-to-prison pipeline and, hopefully, create policies and interventions that effectively dismantle it.”

“We, as a society, allow multiple systems to grind down families and communities because we only look at one or two at a time. If we are truly to address the pipeline to prison we must look at the ways that one family, one child, can be harmed, ignored, traumatized and punished, by layers of systems that are meant to give support,” said Kate Lowenstein, Multisystem Youth Project Director with Citizens for Juvenile Justice, and a member of the Cradle-to-Prison Pipeline Project Advisory Board. “These resources of the Cradle to Prison Pipeline Project will help address a pressing need for lawmakers and caretakers, as well as advocates and researchers, to understand how pipeline contributing systems operate and how their choices, as decisionmakers, perpetuate or dismantle the pipeline. It is critical that all of us who rely on our child and family serving systems to protect and care for children become better educated about pipeline contributors in order to require accountability and create better outcomes for children.”

“This was a partnership in the truest sense of the word, with returning citizens working alongside law students to bring these essential stories into the world, and to build community in the process,” noted Cara Solomon, Executive Director of Everyday Boston.

In its next phase, the project will compile and validate proposed solutions to dismantle the pipeline; for example, removing barriers to kinship placement (i.e., placing children removed from their homes with other relatives) which, in Massachusetts, disproportionately harm Black and Latinx families. The project will also create a community index, informed by local organizations and activists, to illuminate various contributors to incarceration.

The Cradle-to-Prison Pipeline Project was formed in response to the ongoing structural racism that channels Black youth and youth of color into jails and prisons. The project is a collaboration among the Center for Public Interest Advocacy and Collaboration at Northeastern University School of Law; Northeastern University College of Art, Media and Design; the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Northeastern University’s College of Social Sciences and Humanities; the Boston Area Research Initiative; and the nonprofit organization Everyday Boston.

About Northeastern University School of Law

The nation’s leader in experiential legal education since 1968, Northeastern University School of Law offers the longest-running, most extensive experience-based legal education program in the country and is a national leader in legal education reform. Founded with cooperative legal education as the cornerstone of its program, Northeastern guarantees its students unparalleled practical legal work experiences. All students participate in full-time legal placements, and can choose from the more than 1,500 employers worldwide participating in the school’s signature Cooperative Legal Education Program. Northeastern University School of Law blends theory and practice, providing students with a unique set of skills and experience to successfully practice law.

For more information, contact d.feldman@northeastern.edu.