What is the Schools to Prisons Pipeline?

You might have heard someone mention the Schools-to-Prisons pipeline, Schoolhouse to Jailhouse or, The United States school-to-prison link. These terms stem from the criminalization of our youth and describe the non-academic interaction between young students, schools,  the juvenile and adult criminal justice systems in the U.S. 

Since the 1990s schools across the nation have dramatically increased police presence and implemented strict zero-tolerance policies and practices into the school system. (Not to mention the same food supply chains – prison and school cafeteria food!)

The zero-tolerance policies do not distinguish between serious and non-serious offenses, which means that if “Kevin” has a minor offense such as multiple tardies and “James” has a major offense such as bringing a weapon to school, both Kevin and James would be doled out equal punishments – one which doesn’t fit the crime. The behaviors under punishment by the Zero Tolerance policy are primarily nonviolent, minor disruptions being handled like felonies. This “glitch” in the system is one of the leading factors of Mass Incarceration.

Every race is impacted by the schools to prisons pipeline yet it is proven that “African American students, and especially African American boys, are disciplined more often and receive more out-of-school suspensions and expulsions than White students. Over 70% of the students involved in school-related arrests or referred to law enforcement were brown or Black (Education Week, 2013). ”

When a student faces severe discipline policies and is suspended/expelled,  (which chances increase from 2.4% to 11%, in the transition from elementary to middle school,)  their education is interrupted and the possibility of dropping out increases 10 times. Citizens without a high school diploma earn less, have more health problems and are 3.5 more times likely to be arrested, in fact, 68% of all males in prison do not have a high school diploma.

“In 2006-2007, out-of-school suspensions for non-serious/non-violent offenses accounted for 37.2% of suspensions in Maryland, whereas dangerous behaviors were accounted for only 6.7%.  Chicago, 1994, the widespread adoption of zero-tolerance policies resulted in a 51% increase in student suspensions for the next four years and a 3,000% increase in expulsions”

Luckily, There is the Every Student succeeds Act  This act ensures that “advances in equity are made by upholding critical protections for America’s disadvantaged and high-need students.” It’s up to us as students to make sure these policies are put into action and positively influence our education because if we don’t, who will?

It’s also vital to make sure that your school is using every means necessary to provide additional resources such as a restorative justice or youth court program for students.

Think –  Do you have a counselor, teacher or admin you can confide in? Have you or your friends been randomly searched or seized? –  Do you feel safe or scared at your school?   If there was an injustice at your school such as your friend being wrongly accused would you report it? If not, why? So what are we to do?  What are your suggestions, thoughts?


Links to Sources used

I do not own any of the pictures used in this article- Taken from google images.

Posted by Lily Larsen

I am a 17-year-old​ activist/arts advocate and have been participating in marches, protests and petitions since I was 5 years old. I serve on Mayor Garcetti's Youth Council for South LA. And have generated a petition to ban factory farming in California with over 55,000 signatures. I organize community events and get teens like me connected with social justice issues and activism all over LA.

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