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Rural Areas Vulnerable to School-to-Prison Pipelines

Although school-to-prison pipelines are mostly thought of as an urban issue, they are also prevalent in rural communities, possibly due to few resources and a lack of services, according to a recent article by The Marshall Project.

The article focuses on the largely rural state of West Virginia, where the rate of incarcerated youth has jumped more than any other state since 2001, at a time when nearly every other state has sharply decreased juvenile confinement rates. Officials in West Virginia say that the state's few rehabilitation programs, mental health services, and treatment programs often have long waitlists, meaning many youth can receive help more immediately if admitted to a juvenile penal facility.  

"There is a lack of substance abuse services, a lack of counseling, a lack of ability to have in-home services to maintain kids in the family," said Alan Moats, a West Virginia judge to The Marshall Project. "So many times I will remove a child and place him in a facility, if they're on the verge of doing bad things or getting into drugs. When they have structure, they thrive."

Other rural states have also struggled with school-to-prison pipelines. In 2012, the U.S. Department of Justice filed a lawsuit against the Meridian, Miss., district over its "system of severe and arbitrary discipline that disproportionately impacts black children and children with disabilities." A report released earlier this year in the Montana Law Review examined several American Indian reservations in Montana, and found that Native youth face high dropout rates, high suspension rates, and interaction with the juvenile justice system at rates higher than their non-Native peers.

Research shows that many factors contribute to juvenile delinquency, including child abuse or neglect, poverty, below par early-childhood care, academic failure, and inadequate mental health care. Many rural areas lack doctors and health care, and rural schools have become increasingly low-income, according to a recent report. Like urban schools, rural schools also struggle with dropouts. Although many rural states have high graduation rates, rural black students and American Indian students tend to lag behind their peers. 

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