About Deconstructing the Prison Pipeline
“My goal is to get to the kids before they get to me.”
-Sheriff Errol D. Toulon, Jr.
On January 1, 2018, Dr. Errol D. Toulon, Jr. became Suffolk County’s 67th Sheriff of Suffolk County, New York and the County’s first African American to be elected to a non-judicial countywide office. Over the course of his 30-year career in law enforcement, including 25 years working on Rikers Island, Sheriff Toulon came to the conclusion that many current laws and policies aimed at reducing crime and recidivism were failing to consider the root causes – such as adverse childhood experiences, trauma and the effects of inter-generational-incarceration. In October 2018, he put together a task force called Deconstructing the Prison Pipeline, and brought together lawmakers, human service experts, impacted individuals, educators, and law enforcement officials to study the issue and implement holistic solutions.
Safe schools and neighborhoods depend on a caring community where everyone feels they will be equally protected, supported, and heard. Deconstructing the Prison Pipeline seeks to address the root causes of youthful crime and racial inequities in the justice system -- and brings together law enforcement, lawmakers, school officials, human service professionals and impacted individuals to innovate and create systemic change.
THE DECONTRUCTING THE PRISON PIPELINE TASK FORCE
SEEKS TO CREATE A MORE EFFECTIVE CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM AND PREVENT JUVENILE DELINQUENCY
Sheriff Toulon believes that by focusing on the related needs of children, the community, and the incarcerated population, we can build a better society, reduce crime, and improve the correctional system.
Deconstructing the Prison Pipeline Task Force Members
Dr. Errol D. Toulon, Jr.
Sheriff of Suffolk County, Chair
Assemblywoman Kimberly Jean-Pierre
NY State Assembly, Task Force Co-Chair
Suffolk County DA's Office
Dr. Frances Brisbane
Jean Cohen, Mentor New York
Tracey Edwards, NAACP
Dr. Kimberly Roff, Touro College
Dr. Linda Russo, Molloy College
Rebecca Sanin, HWCLI
What is the Suffolk County Sheriff's Office doing to combat this issue?
Under Sheriff Toulon’s leadership, the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Office became the first law enforcement agency in the nation to partner with Sandy Hook Promise to teach school children the Say Something and Start with Hello curriculum in county schools. Say Something educates youth about the observable warning signs (written, spoken, photographed, in video) that often exist in behaviors that could lead to someone hurting themselves or others. It also teaches individuals how to safely report on warning signs and potential threats. Start with Hello is designed to encourage positive social interaction to reduce loneliness, isolation and bullying. By teaching thousands of students in these programs each year, Sheriff Toulon hopes to create a cultural shift in society in which all children and adults become empowered bystanders—and we reduce the stigma of seeking emotional and mental health support.
Sheriff Toulon is also seeking to address the unintended consequences of zero-tolerance school disciplinary policies that studies show feed the “school-to-prison pipeline.” In July 2019, Sheriff Toulon met with many school superintendents and security staff to discuss the efficacy of an evidenced-based alternative known as the Virginia Student Threat Assessment Guidelines. It is a program used to evaluate threats of violence, quickly resolve less serious transient threats and take appropriate action in response to more serious, substantive threats. The method encourages more collective problem solving that gets to the core of disciplinary problems. Studies have found that schools using this model were able to resolve threats safely and effectively, allowing almost all students to return to school. It also resulted in lower suspension rates and fewer alternative school transfers, with no racial/ethnic disparities for black and Hispanic students. Youth in special education programs received similar outcomes to other students, and in school climate surveys, students and teachers reported less bullying and more positive perceptions of school climate than students and teachers in control-group schools. Numerous school districts now intend to adopt this methodology.