EducationSocial Issues

School to Prison Pipeline System in the United States

In 2015, when a black 16-year-old girl refused to give up her phone after being caught texting in class, a school resource police officer tried to convince her to leave the classroom, but she declined. The police officer then grabbed the girl, later identified as Shakara, by the neck and flipped her and her chair over, slammed her on the ground and dragged her. 

Students who are part of the LGBTQ+ community, have disabilities or are people of colour are affected disproportionately by a school-to-prison pipeline system in the United States. This system is a process in which students are pushed into prison. Students that are most affected by this are African Americans. African American students are three times more likely to get suspended than white students, and it could start as early as preschool.

Implicit Bias

Implicit bias is one of the factors that contributes to the school-to-prison pipeline system. Unconsciously holding opinions about a person is known as implicit bias. An example of this is assuming someone with a name like Jordan is a black person while someone called Mitch is a white person. A more pressing example is assuming black students cause more trouble than white students. “Multiple studies found that black students are more likely to be suspended than white students for the same behavior,” according to Education Equity.

Lack of Resources

School to Prison Pipeline System in the United States

Students are kept in overcrowded classrooms with unqualified teachers or funding spent on things not needed. Image Source: NPR

The flawed K-12 public school establishment is also a factor contributing to the school to prison pipeline system. The most common starting point is the lack of resources provided at school. Students are faced with crowded classrooms with a large number of peers, unqualified teachers, and funding all spent on textbooks. Due to an environment like this, students tend to drop out. Additionally, some schools encourage their students to abandon schooling so the school can boost overall grades on major tests. 

Zero-Tolerance Policy

Since crimes have been increasing in schools, multiple states adopted a zero-tolerance policy. Students are suspended or expelled after any offense to teach discipline with zero exceptions given. Suspension rates for all students have doubled since the 1970s, according to the Justice Policy Institute. As stated by American Civil Liberties Union, “under these policies, students have been expelled for bringing nail clippers or scissors to school.”

Disciplinary Alternative Schools

Some students that get expelled are directed to disciplinary alternative schools. These schools are only in Texas and all public schools in the state are required to have this program. The purpose of disciplinary alternative schools is to aid students to foster positive social skills and to monitor behaviour. These schools give minimal work and lessons, failing to teach worthwhile curriculum. When those children are sent back to regular schools, they are unprepared, which keeps them in inferior education environments or leads to them being put into a juvenile justice system.

Policing Hallways

School to Prison Pipeline System in the United States

Image Source: Pagosa Daily Post

Policing school hallways is when police monitor what a child performs at school and if it is disruptive, the student is arrested. 

An example of this is when a student got seized after not standing up for the Pledge of Allegiance. On February 4th, 2019, a sixth-grader refused to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance after telling the teacher he thought it was racist to black people. The teacher, Ana Alvarez, then asked him: “If living in the United States is so bad, why not go to another place?” The conversation between the two continued until the dean, student resource officer, and the Lakeland Police Department came over to the classroom and asked him to leave. He refused and called them racist. The sixth-grader was later arrested for his behaviour. One of the police officers stated that “this arrest was based on the student’s choice to disrupt the classroom, make threats and resisting the officer’s efforts to leave the classroom.” The ACLU of Florida then tweeted, “This is outrageous. Students do not lose their First Amendment rights when they enter the schoolhouse gates.” This presented the community with the reality that a student was arrested for the prime reason of not wanting to stand for the pledge.

What happened to Shakara is another example of this. The increase of school arrests is what makes youth go from school to jail easily. Police being at school doesn’t help anyone because they criminalize children’s behavior. 

A Closer Look

A study taken in 2019 showed black scholars are disciplined harder than white students. There is a more severe punishment for a black student than there is for a white student who commits the same crime. “A first offense by black students was on average rated 20% more severely than that by white students and a second offense 29% more severely,” concludes journalist Brett Arends. This shows staff members and police officers had biases towards students based on their racial identities.

American students, parents, school administration, and the government should take action to stop this school-to-prison pipeline system. When one turns on the television, they might see a black child around the age of 15 getting arrested at school for a “crime.” When people see that, they automatically assume the student is up to no good, and thereby assume all black students must be the same. What they might not know is what he got arrested for. What if it was because he brought a nail clipper to school? The media portrays things in a way that gets the audience to believe what they show. The implicit bias that people have also affects how things are viewed. Being aware of a system like the school-to-prison pipeline system is crucial, as black students are affected to a level that stays with them even as they grow into adults. 



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Want to learn more about INKspire? Check out our organization's website.
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