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Youth Rights Media has been using a variety of innovative strategies to expose and address the schoolhouse to jailhouse track in their local New Haven schools. After listening to repeated complaints and concerns about the overuse of suspensions in schools from their peers, youth organizers at Youth Rights Media decided to develop a film documenting this phenomenon. In addition to presenting students’ anecdotal stories, the youth organizers filed public records requests in order to gather statistical data from New Haven Public Schools to present in the film. These requests were repeatedly ignored. Determined, Youth Rights Media decided to obtain the data using another route and subsequently contacted potential allies at the Connecticut State Department of Education. Ultimately, the youth were able get they data they needed, interview key stakeholders in New Haven, and document anecdotal stories. The film, “Book ‘Em: Undereducated, Overincarcerated,” was released in 2005.

The film received massive statewide acclaim and Youth Rights Media received the Criminal Justice Award at Media that Matters, the nationally acclaimed social justice film festival. Youth Rights Media also launched a public awareness campaign around the film in 2006. Screenings were organized for college students, youth groups, neighborhood associations, policy makers, social workers, and teachers, as part of their continuing education requirements. Ultimately, the documentary was screened for over 1,500 youth and community members.

The documentary brought intense scrutiny and subsequent change to the way discipline was administered in Connecticut. In the year following the release of the film, suspensions in New Haven’s two largest high schools decreased by 50%. In addition, the Connecticut Department of Education launched an investigation into the use and abuse of suspensions in schools. Moreover, in 2007, Connecticut engaged in an in-depth study of schools’ disciplinary responses to students with special needs in comparison to those students enrolled in the regular education program. Many advocates on-the-ground credit Youth Rights Media’s documentary and advocacy for sparking the interest, and political will, to uncover punitive discipline in Connecticut.

As a follow-up to the documentary, Youth Rights Media’s youth members focused on increasing the amount of resources for alternative schools. YRM found that many suspended and expelled students were shipped to these inadequately resourced schools. Specifically, Youth Rights Media targeted one alternative school and youth at the school developed a three-part platform for reform there:

  • Make changes to the school facility by ensuring it is not adjacent to the prison;
  • Create a more challenging and engaging curriculum and establish necessary academic supports, including hiring a full-time guidance counselor; and
  • Provide access to student health services, including availability of a school nurse and edible, school lunches.

The youth engaged in participatory research, surveying their peers at the school and facilitating focus group discussions with students. They also met with friendly officials at the New Haven Public Schools to ensure that their voices were heard and their recommendations were followed. As a result of the youth advocacy, the school was relocated to a new facility and it increased academic support services, including a school counselor and social worker.

Currently, Youth Rights Media is examining the school drop-out rate, paying particular attention to anecdotal evidence it has received that older-aged high school students are being “counseled out” of school and threatened with school suspensions if they do not drop out.


“Book ‘Em: Undereducated, Overincarcerated” ordering information
“Book ‘Em: Undereducated, Overincarcerated” trailer

For more info, contact:

Laura McCargar
Executive Director
Youth Rights Media
PO Box 206950
T: 203-776-4034
[email protected]