The School to Prison Pipeline

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….this is the crime of which I accuse my country and my countrymen, and for which neither I nor history will ever forgive them, that they destroyed and are destroying hundreds of thousands of lives and do not know it and do not wish to know is their innocence which constitutes the crime.-Michelle AlexanderThe New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness

It is glaringly evident that lower-income youth in urban areas are at a greater disadvantage than their affluent peers with regards to educational resources. One needs only to walk by these underfunded public schools to see the wired windows, relatively barren recreational courts and the heavy presence of police officers patrolling the grounds. High school graduation rates for Black and Latin@ students further reveal the wide disparities in the U.S. public school system along socioeconomic and racial lines. Rather than being placed on a path toward academic success, large numbers of Black and Brown students, especially males, are channeled to the prison system through so-called “zero tolerance” policies implemented in schools across the country. The school-to-prison pipeline refers to the policies and practices that push neglected students into the juvenile detention and incarceration system. Sadly, students of color are often stigmatized with labels like “at-risk,” conveying a narrowed perception of their potential and resigning them to failure before they have been given the chance to excel.

Students are welcomed with metal detectors as they enter places of learning in U.S. cities. Supposedly aimed at limiting violence in schools, reports show that metal detectors are not a viable solution for disciplinary issues that may arise in schools. Regardless of intent, metal detectors transform school from an arena of knowledge to a space of criminalization for many youth of color. The New York Civil Liberties Union reports that the permanent presence of metal detectors in high schools is interconnected with issues of overcrowding and increases in school suspension rates. In addition to metal detectors, school safety agents account for a large portion of allocated budget, diverting resources from scholastic programming and salaries for educators and guidance counselors. In the 2008-2009 school year, New York City’s school safety budget was $221.7 million, significantly higher than the national average. These figures suggest New York City is more concerned with militarizing schools than preparing students for academic success.

The school-to-prison pipeline cycle deprives students of their education, future employment possibilities and the political literacy necessary for civic engagement ( ). Organizations like the New York Civil Liberties Union, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Southern Poverty Law Center are working to end this cycle and prompt a national conversation about schools and prisons. They have empowered students to organize and speak about the impact of policing in their schools. The ACLU has compiled a list of suggested alternatives, a useful resource for advocates and administrators working to dismantle oppressive and exclusionary schooling practices.

by Imani Darden
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  2. Melissa B

     /  April 24, 2014

    This post was very informative and interesting as the problems involving juvenile justice and education are increasing to me. I was shocked at the article on huffingtonpost about the zero tolerance policy. So many of the “ridiculous” things students are being suspended and criminalized for that when I was growing up in public school would barely warrant more than detention. It leads me to question why something hasn’t been done already to change this policy to make it clearer how the “punishment should fit the crime”.



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