Anti-Racism 101

15 School-to-Prison Pipeline


Over the past 20 years, advocates, students, educators, and researchers have coined the term school-to-prison pipeline (STPP) to describe how harsh school disciplinary policies and law enforcement policies intersect to feed young people into the criminal punishment system. This is part of a national trend that criminalizes rather than educates students — and one that disproportionately targets black students — as ‘tough-on-crime’ policy has resulted in millions of mostly black and brown people winding up behind bars. Nationally, since 1990, spending on prisons has increased three times as quickly as spending on education.” –Mariame Kaba

“The STPP is a system designed to funnel Black and poor children into the carceral system. The STPP connects to the PIC and targets Black children to fill prisons for the rest of their lives. “ (paraphrase this and more, from SPB)

Racial bias is abhorrent in any form, but it’s particularly problematic for teachers. Instructors who view kids through a racial lens—even unconsciously—are more likely to tag children of certain ethnicities as troublemakers, which can have negative long-term ramifications.” –Tom Jacobs

“Many schools, instead of providing avenues out of poverty in low-income neighborhoods, become highly policed environments that reinforce racial inequality and distrust of authority. With the rise of metal detectors, surveillance cameras, and pat-downs in schools, students interact with police during a formative period that shapes their life-long attitudes and life trajectories.”

“My findings reveal that it is race combined with gender, class, age, demeanor, and place that determines who is—and is not—ensnared in the ever-expanding web of police control because the social concentration of the justice system’s impact is not evenly, or randomly, distributed. According to my survey research and interviews with students, people of color in more diverse schools are more likely to recognize that they are discriminated against, because they see the ways they are being treated differently.”

-Carla Shedd

“Across the country, educators are rethinking their approach to school discipline in response to sky-high suspension rates that disproportionately affect black children. Some of the more common efforts aim to change student behavior or overhaul school protocols. A district might unilaterally ban suspensions for more subjective transgressions or adopt restorative justice practices designed to repair relationships when there’s been a rift. But a growing number of schools in the Bay Area and nationally are realizing that improving discipline is just as much about changing teacher behavior as changing student behavior.” -Dani McClain

“No young person looks forward to waking up and going to school with the hopes of being groomed for incarceration. In fact, what we understand as ‘bad behavior’ is quite often a manifestation of an unmet need. Still, we know from research and personal experience (as a teacher and social worker) that occurrences which begin as a simple violation of a school rule can easily spiral into an encounter with the criminal justice system. Zero Tolerance policies support this line of action….”

“There is no correlation between number of suspensions and decrease in unwanted behaviors; studies suggest the opposite. Students who are suspended from school are, in fact, more likely to engage in unwanted behaviors and display declines in academic achievement.

Additionally, there are more law enforcement present in urban schools than guidance counselors and social workers combined nationally. Students don’t need more law enforcement to create positive school climates. They need more supports….”

“Once suspended from school, students are twice as likely to be suspended again and on the road to dropping out. Once a student drops out and/or is expelled, however, they are three times more likely to be incarcerated. Without the proper supports in place upon release, they face a higher chance of recidivism. Thus, the vicious cycle of oppression and trauma continues.” –Tyler B. and Shana L.

“For Kane and Pillar, the school-to-prison pipeline is more than an abstract concept about the link between getting suspended or expelled from school and the likelihood of engaging in criminal activity. It’s a reality their brothers faced, and a path they followed too until someone gave them the motivation and support to find a different way.” –Lauren Slagter

“In public schools across the country, Black girls and other gender-oppressed students of color are disproportionately disciplined at school, receiving harsher and more frequent punishments than their white counterparts. Black girls are disproportionately disciplined for subjective behavior such as “defiance” or “disrespect,” and are referred to law enforcement at a disproportionate rate. In the face of this overly-punitive treatment, Black girls can feel isolated from school, opening up a pathway to low achievement, suspension, expulsion, and dropping out.

In Philadelphia, where the number of school resource officers exceeds the number of counselors, these conditions are worse. The criminalization of gender-oppressed students of color at school predictably leads to increased entanglement in the juvenile justice system or the Department of Human Services. Black girls, transgender, and gender non-conforming people are now the fastest-growing population in the juvenile justice system.” –Julien Terrell

“Reflecting on the 8th grade graduation I attended yesterday: I sat at the ceremony for two hours of endless recognition to ‘outstanding’ students and all the academic achievement kudos they received. All this recognition for ‘outstanding behavior” and ‘highest GPAs’ makes me think how intentionally we socialize our children into valuing the construct of authority & written knowledge (construct of whiteness) but devalue survival skills, resilience, and oral history.

So I want to congratulate all those students who struggle to make three meals a day; those students who despite not having a stable living condition still make it to school every day; those students who have lost a parent due to ICE abductions in our communities and still live in fear of coming home after school to find their only parent was abducted as well; those students whose parents vehemently fight to keep their children out of the school-to-prison pipeline; those students who despite never being heard or seen by the educational system try their best to stay focused on their learning.

I want to say to all these students that you are seen and deserve all of the praise and recognition. Thank you for your resilience!” –Nelly Fuentes Donachello

“Five Outrageous Policies that are Pushing Black Girls Out of School”: