School to Prison Pipeline

The school-to-prison pipeline is defined by the ACLU as the “disturbing national trend wherein children are funneled out of public schools and into the juvenile and criminal justice systems.” A lack of special needs services, basic healthcare, learning disabilities, homelessness, hunger and poverty often manifest themselves as disruptive behavior in the classroom. But instead of getting the students the help they need, they are criminalized.

Sustained trauma affects kids’ ability to form positive relationships, adjust their emotions and tell the difference between threatening and non-threatening relationships, all of which affects how well they’re able to do in school. Students living in shelters were far more likely than their peers to miss school and to be suspended. Students that come to school hungry cannot manage to muster the focus needed to learn. Students designated as having disabilities are two times as likely as their peers to be punished with suspension and expulsion, and researchers have found that even one suspension in ninth grade doubles the likelihood that students will drop out eventually. More than one in every four black boys identified as having disabilities was suspended in the 2011-2012 school year, according to the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights. Having been over-identified as disabled and far disproportionately suspended from school, black students are also subjected to some of the highest rates of school-based arrests.

Black students are disproportionately suspended from class, starting as early as preschool. Black preschool children are 3.6 times more likely than white children to receive one or more out-of-school suspensions. This pattern continues in K-12, where black students are 1.9 times more likely than white students to be expelled and 2.3 times more likely to be disciplined through involvement of officers, such as a school related arrest. Black girls are 5.5 times more likely to be suspended from school than their white peers. Black girls are more often punished for challenging what society considers “feminine” behavior– things like being candid or assertive, talking back to teachers, as well as less severe transgressions, including chewing gum and dress code violations. Children as young as 5 or 6 years old have been handcuffed in schools and even arrested. The children subjected to this kind of harsh treatment are almost always children of color.

Police officers in schools (sometimes called “school resource officers”) play a critical role in the school to prison pipeline. New York City public schools currently have 5,200 school resource officers (including 200 uniformed police officers) — meaning schools in NYC employ more cops than counselors. According to a 2011 report from the Justice Policy Institute, “when schools have law enforcement on site, students are more likely to be arrested by police instead of discipline being handled by school officials. This leads to more kids being funneled into the juvenile justice system, which is both expensive and associated with a host of negative impacts on youth.”

Prepared by Candice S. Petty, Esq. for 20/20 Bipartisan Justice Center © 2018

“The creation of the school-to-prison pipeline represents a societal choice to invest in the criminalization of children of color. The investments made — towards housing children in juvenile jails, trying them as adults for crimes and expanding our criminal justice system to process and cage those who have dropped out of school — come at the expense of other investments we could have made: in increased and robust mental health and social service interventions in our schools, in parental support and in early intervention for our most vulnerable children.”

Sherrilyn Ifill

President and Director-Counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc.

Further Reading

Government Watchdog Finds Racial Bias in School Discipline

Green, Erica

York Times | 4 April 2018.

Black Children Will Be the Victims of Armed Teachers

Ifill, Sherrilyn

Time | 5 March 2018

How the School to Prison Pipeline Works

Kaba, Mariame

Teen Vogue | 10 October 2017

America Keeps Criminalizing Autistic Children

Perry, David M

Pacific Standard Magazine | 12 June 2017

Black Girls Are Twice as Likely to Be Suspended, In Every State

Cameron, Lauren

U.S. News & World Report | 9 May 2017

Race, Disability & The School to Prison Pipeline

Hing, Julianne

Colorlines | 13 May 2014