From: Mary Jo Klinker
On May 5, 2021, I opened the newspaper to read that the Winona City Council is refusing to hear a resolution demanding no juvenile detention center be built and adopting a policy of zero youth incarceration. This story was juxtaposed with the demand for “fake windows” on a new, $25-million dollar county jail, and that “WAPS’ racial disparity in discipline persists.” The article stated of these racist institutional disparities: “Black students at Winona Area Public Schools (WAPS) were suspended seven times more often than their white peers last school year. As the district nears the end of a three-year agreement with the Minnesota Department of Human Rights (MDHR) to reduce the disparity in discipline between students of color and white students, that disparity remains largely unchanged.”
Back in 2017, I wrote a letter to the editor titled “Winona must address, recognize school-to-prison pipeline” in which I noted our School Board was closing three schools and the paper headlines simultaneously read “Winona County begins jail planning.” This was emblematic of the school-to-prison pipeline, which the American Civil Liberties Union defines as “a disturbing national trend wherein children are funneled out of public schools and into the juvenile and criminal justice systems … Students of color are especially vulnerable to push-out trends and the discriminatory application of discipline.” According to the 2016 superintendent report, Black students made up only 4.5 percent of the high school student population, yet 33 percent of student suspensions, a clear example of the national trend of racist disciplinary actions. That same year, Winona County Attorney Karin Sonneman stated in the Winona Post there had been an increased rate of juvenile delinquency and therefore a need for more services for juveniles. At that time, I asked: “Has there been an increased rate? Or, do we lack the ability to offer compassionate schools with restorative justice, an educational approach proven to repair harm, rather than utilizing punitive measures? Winona community members – what are our priorities: education or jails? Which path will make our community healthy and just?”
My questions from 2017 have painful and obvious answers in 2021. Winona, we must show up to make clear to interlocking structures of local governance — City Council, County Board, and School Board — that we want to divest from incarceration and invest in collective care.