Perspectives: When did we start sending our kids off to prison?

OPINION – Even the people who know me best might be surprised to learn that, many years ago, I did a six-year stint in the pen.

Okay, actually it was William Penn Elementary in Salt Lake City, but my friends and I lovingly referred to it as “William Penitentiary.” It used to be that comparing school to prison was just a joke. But over the past 40 years, the difference between schools and prisons has become indistinct.

Some features are common to any state-run institution. This includes things like an authoritarian structure, emphasis on rules and conformity, abridged freedoms, and a loss of individual autonomy.

But lately, the similarities have grown even more ominous.

Like correctional institutions, schools regularly go into lockdown when there is even a rumor of danger. During a lockdown, no one is allowed to enter or leave the school and students are required to remain locked in their classrooms until the lockdown is lifted. Prisons use this technique to secure the facility and control the population.

Another piece of prison technology that has become commonplace in our schools is the use of cameras and movement tracking. School officials will often defend the use of cameras as a security feature to ensure safety and keep track of the students.

Of course, the cameras also serve to remind the students that they are always being watched and that they will be caught if they break any rules within sight of a camera. This underscores the primary reason why cameras are also used in prison where the denial of privacy is intended to influence behavior.

This particular piece of prison technology is finding its way into our public life locally as well in the form of ubiquitous video cameras and license plate readers. Upcoming generations are being conditioned, starting in school, to see this complete lack of privacy as the new normal.

Like inmates, many students have no real expectation of privacy and can be subject to warrantless searches of their persons, bags, and belongings. A recent lockdown training exercise at Cedar Middle School brought in Cedar City police with drug-sniffing dogs to ‘practice’ on certain student’s bags.

Parents were told about the lockdown drill, but were not informed that the drug dogs would be used to search their children without a warrant. Does this mean that by allowing our children to attend government schools that they forfeit their inalienable rights? Visitors to any correctional facility will see signs openly stating this policy.

Another striking similarity between schools and prison is found in the presence of armed guards and zero tolerance for anything that could be construed as weaponry in the hands of the inmates/students. Just last week the Granite School District in Salt Lake City was celebrating the fact that its police force had just acquired three military surplus M-16 rifles.

Remember, a student who so much as draws a picture of a weapon can be punished for violating the so-called safe schools policies. But an actual select fire assault rifle, in the hands of a guard, is portrayed as a safety measure.

It’s another example of how students are being progressively conditioned to live like prisoners under constant surveillance and armed supervision. And this conditioning is spreading to society at large.

It’s clear that fear is winning out over the American public. But it shouldn’t be.

In reality, the incidence of in-school violence has been steadily decreasing since 1993. Public perception based on a handful of highly publicized instances of school violence is being used to justify a growing authoritarianism on the part of the state.

How did we ever survive going to school in a time when we had no police officers or cameras there to watch over us? Those who would say that the world is a different place today than it was then are only partly right.

The biggest change isn’t that the world has become a more dangerous place. It’s that the state has expanded in ways that treat all of us, whether in school or not, as the inhabitants of a massive correctional institution.

Because this change has come gradually—on cat’s feet—rather than all at once, we’ve become accustomed to the new normal.

But normal, healthy societies don’t treat their citizens as a resource to be managed or as potential criminals to be caught.

This is worth remembering the next time you’re being patted down at the airport, or herded into an administrative checkpoint while driving down the road. Keep it in mind when your child comes home talking about their school’s latest lockdown drill.

Then remind yourself that these techniques are consistent with prison life.

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Bryan Hyde is a news commentator and co-host of the Perspectives talk show on Fox News 1450 AM 93.1 FM. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @youcancallmebry

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2014, all rights reserved.


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  • DoubleTap February 27, 2014 at 9:53 am

    LEOs and many “authorities” have been trained and conditioned to view the citizenry, which they are supposed to protect and serve, as “suspect(s)”. They are to assume that every citizen they come in contact with is a “suspect”.
    Therefore the same conditioning is being perpetrated in our public school systems. Of course the children/students will grow up thinking this is normal. Fortunately those of us who are old enough to remember the good ‘ole days can at least try to pass on the memories to our children…. of what it was like to live in a truly free society.

  • BigJohn February 27, 2014 at 11:13 am

    Whine all you want; but, if it keeps kids from being gunned down in a horrific event, it is great. If the schools did nothing to protect from a horrific event (just so kids can run around without rules & be free spirits); then, everyone would whine that the schools didn’t do their job.

    Brian, you can’t have it both ways. So, pick either cameras and more rules or no oversight and no rules.

    • Richard February 27, 2014 at 12:34 pm

      I don’t necessarily agree with Bryan, but saying, “pick either cameras and more rules or no oversight and no rules.”, is a poor argument. Those are obviously not the only two options. That’s like saying we all have to be either communists or fascists. Pick which one you want BIGJOHN.

    • anonymous February 28, 2014 at 8:48 am

      “Those who sacrifice freedom for security deserve neither and will receive neither” Benjamin Franklin

  • Joanna February 27, 2014 at 11:37 am

    “…students are required to remain locked in their classrooms until the lockdown is lifted.”
    — Cool, so next time there’s a school shooting, can we have one of the the author’s umpteen kids poke his head out in the hall to make sure the coast is clear?

    “…drug dogs would be used to search their children without a warrant.”
    — He who has nothing to hide, hides nothing. If my kid is caught with drugs by a police dog, I’d have bigger concerns than whether his civil rights were violated.

    It’s ironic that he joked about going to William Penitentiary, when indeed he does belong in some kind of institution. After all, this IS coming from someone who one time said that texting behind the wheel is not universally dangerous.

  • Yak February 27, 2014 at 12:40 pm

    reason for cameras in school #1 – kids have accused teachers of sexual misconduct that has been proven false by recordings
    reason for cameras #2 – kids are turds and destroy property – like the desert hills high kids that stole thor’s hammer from DHHS and drew penises and other things on the windows of the other area high schools
    reason for cops in school – I shouldn’t have to prove a point on this but how about colombine and sandy hook?

  • Mom February 27, 2014 at 4:49 pm

    I have a suggestion. STOP PUTTING YOUR KIDS IN TIME OUT AND START WHIPPING THERE BOTTOM. I am not talking about abuse I am talking about showing them what real consequences are. I see kids as little as 2 and 3 telling there parents NO! and Do it yourself, and having down right tantrums, and the parents just act like it is not happening. REALLY PEOPLE! WAKE THE … UP! every day more and more kids are going to jail and prison, Time out does not work, maybe on a very select few. but check out how many kids are being locked up for abusing their parents or siblings, or have killed them. kids are having temper tantrums and killing teachers and kids in there school because they are mad.
    They were never taught what real consequences are. lets face it, these are the people who will be running our country someday. is this really what you want. kids need boundaries, love, affection, positive reinforcement, and yes people a good ole fashioned swat on the bottom form time to time. back in the day you did not need guards at the school, because kids new better, they were taught better, they were respectful, and caring, unlike today, where our kids are spoiled, selfish, disrespectful, rude, and yes sometimes abuse, young people. its time to wake up people and take back control of our kids, and I just bet you that there will be no more need for schools to act like prisons.
    Ed. ellipsis.

  • Roy J February 27, 2014 at 7:32 pm

    I think the lockdown drill is the new earthquake/air raid/nuclear holocaust drill. Big deal! As for the argument about more or less secure, or more authoritarian, well that is totally debatable. What sources were used? Were inner city schools from twenty years ago being quietly compared with contemporary rural ones? In what way are schools now prisons as compared to before? How far back does this article claim to be going?

    Without the facts that went into the formation of this opinion, this article appears to be nothing but hot air. Appendices, please!!!

  • Bender February 27, 2014 at 8:41 pm

    We’ve become a hyper risk-adverse society. Everything scares us — politicians and special interest groups use that fear as a tool to further their own popularity or agenda. School administrators know over-reaction has almost no downside, but that they will be hung out to dry if something preventable does happen.
    Bottom line: American society has lost it’s confidence and poise. School administrators are simply responding in a way that should surprise no one.

  • Bub February 27, 2014 at 9:11 pm


  • sagemoon February 4, 2015 at 10:25 am

    Amen, Bryan, amen. It’s good to see someone on the same page as me.

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