The School to Prison Pipeline
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Activist and school board candidate Kate Smith is a tireless advocate both online and in the so called real world. Her continual reminders of the need to address the problems of youth and the need for structural change in education are an inspiration to all who know her, as is her indefatigable resistance to attempts by the powers that be to silence her critique.
Chapter 1: Introduction
The "school-to-prison pipeline" is a phrase used by education reform activists to designate a widespread pattern in system education and public safety which, according to critics, pushes students out of school and into the criminal justice system. According to critics such as the ACLU and the Justice Policy Center, this system disproportionately targets youth of color and youth with disabilities . Some researchers have determined that school level practices correlate to delinquency and incarceration. Inequities in areas such as school discipline, policing practices, high-stakes testing and the prison industry contribute to the pipeline.
The School to Prison Pipeline is understood to operate at all levels of government (Federal, state, county, city and school district), and both directly and indirectly. Schools directly send students into the pipeline through zero tolerance policies that involve the police in minor incidents and often lead to arrests, criminal charges and juvenile detention. Schools indirectly push students towards the criminal justice system by excluding them from school through suspension, expulsion, discouragement and high-stakes testing requirements.
Chapter 2: ACLU argument
"The school-to-prison pipeline refers to the national trend of criminalizing, rather than educating, our nation’s children. The pipeline encompasses the growing use of zero-tolerance discipline, school-based arrests, disciplinary alternative schools, and secured detention to marginalize our most at-risk youth and deny them access to education."
Chapter 3: Zero tolerance policies
Zero-tolerance disciplinary policies are often the first step in a child’s journey through the pipeline. Zero-tolerance policies impose severe discipline on students without regard to individual circumstances. Under these policies, children have been expelled for giving Midol to a classmate, bringing household goods (including a kitchen knife) to school to donate to Goodwill, and bringing scissors to class for an art project.
Chapter 4: Over reliance on police
According to the ACLU, schools rely on poorly trained police, rather than teachers and administrators, to handle minor school misconduct.
Chapter 5: Resource diversion
The ACLU also contends that resources that could be put towards improving under-resourced schools are instead used for security, despite the fact that these very schools are the ones lacking basic educational resources like textbooks and libraries.
Chapter 6: American Bar Association position
The ABA also condemned zero-tolerance policies: “zero tolerance has become a one-size-fits-all solution to all the problems that schools confront. It has redefined students as criminals, with unfortunate consequences…Unfortunately, most current [zero-tolerance] policies eliminate the common sense that comes with discretion and, at great cost to society and to children and families, do little to improve school safety.”
Chapter 7:Counter arguments
The ACLU contention that these officers approach youth as they would adult “perps” (perpetrator) on the street, rather than children at school does not appear to be supported by peer reviewed research. The contention that children "as young as five years old are being led out of classrooms in handcuffs. The contention that students have been "arrested for throwing an eraser at a teacher, breaking a pencil" are out of context and a reasonable person would not assume that there could not have been additional facts which would support a conclusion that the arrest may have been based upon more than the bare fact of pencil breaking or eraser throwing. In short, the brief allegations do not sufficiently establish the case that such police actions are unreasonable, nor do their talking points include adequate citations in their publicly available formats.
Others contend that "Arguably, suspensions remove disorderly students and thereby improve the school environment so that well behaving students can learn without distractions. In some cases suspensions are also aimed at getting parents’ attention to persistent problems at school. Many proponents of harsh “zero tolerance” discipline codes will assert that you need to suspend kids as a deterrent to violence and unlawful drug activity.
The NYCLU takes an active role in fighting the school-to-prison pipeline and in educating New York public school students about their rights within the confines of their schools. These rights range from those pertaining to interactions with school safety and school resource officers to how to deal with metal detectors.
Chapter 9: Litigation
In January 2010, the NYCLU, ACLU and the law firm Dorsey & Whitney LLP filed a federal class action lawsuit challenging the NYPD’s practice of wrongfully arresting and using excessive force against children in New York City schools.
For further information
- Breaking the School to Prison Pipeline: Identifying School Risk and Protective Factors for Youth Delinquency Exceptionality: A Special Education Journal Volume 13, Issue 2, 2005, Pages 69 - 88 Authors: Christine A. Christle; Kristine Jolivette; C. Michael Nelson
- B.H. et al. v. City of New York