The School-to-Prison Pipeline



PHOTO: Flickr/Sierra RomeoOn September 29, students in Chicago marched from Crane High School to Cook County Juvenile Detention to raise awareness of the more than 3 million students suspended each year. Shown above are the "Ghosts of Graduates that Could have Been" and "Zombie Strippers for the Truth" during the “Break the School to Prison Pipeline” march. PHOTO: Flickr/Sierra Romeo

Students protest zero-tolerance policies and the school-to-prison pipeline. PHOTO: Flickr/Sierra RomeoStudents protest zero-tolerance policies and the school-to-prison pipeline. PHOTO: Flickr/Sierra Romeo

Children with learning disabilities, African Americans and Latinos are more likely to be subjected to harsh disciplinary actions and to “zero-tolerance” policies, starting in elementary school, thus setting the stage for higher rates of incarceration (detention in prison) among them when they get older. Rather than getting the support they need to succeed, children with disabilities, African Americans and Latinos are more likely to be conditioned to go into correctional facilities–a process and civil rights issue called the school-to-prison pipeline.

“Multiple studies confirm that students of color receive harsher consequences than their white peers for committing the same offenses,” the Center for American Progress reports.

Today, more than 2 million people are in prison, most of whom are people of color, compared with only 325,000 people in 1970, according to Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Color Blindness.

Disciplinary actions for bad behavior include counseling, mentorship and detention. But under the “zero-tolerance” policies, students are more likely to be suspended or expelled (kicked out of school) and police officers may get involved. According to the newspaper Liberation, “There are more police departments with armed officers in the schools, which in turn use surveillance cameras, metal detectors, drug-sniffing dogs, and random searches of students.” When kids are punished severely and kicked out of school often, they are less likely to complete their studies. They start to be seen as troublemakers. Once they go to prison, the road stops there because many doors of opportunity close once someone enters the criminal justice system.

Students who act up may come from communities where there is poverty, violence and drugs. Some students may have family members who have been to or are still in prison. Students may be bored and do not understand what they are doing. Dr. Rodney Washington, a former juvenile corrections officer and currently chair of the Elementary and Early Childhood Education Department at Jackson State University in Mississippi said, “[Students] don’t [all] learn the same way and they need [a] curriculum that supports their learning styles.” He emphasized the importance of making school fun and engaging for kids, and making sure they have enough guidance and mentorship in school.


More than half of youth in juvenile detention have not completed eighth grade 
and two-thirds of those leaving formal custody do not return to school. 
Source: Cory Roy-Stevens, author of Overcoming Barriers to School Reentry.

Nearly 100,000 children and teens are in police custody (or supervision) nationwide. 
People of color are four times more likely to be held in custody than white youths. 
Source: Booth Gunter and Jamie Kizzire, authors of Breaking the 

Fifty percent of all prisoners are African American, 30 percent are white 
and 20 percent are Latino. Most are in prison for nonviolent crimes. 
Source: Nancy A. Heitzeg, professor at St. Catherine University and author of 
Kids Behind Bars: Where’s the justice in America’s Juvenile Justice System?

Education vs. Incarceration

by Maskar. Browse more data visualization.

5 thoughts on “The School-to-Prison Pipeline”

  1. Kudos to Mokgwetsi Chapman for so aptly analyzing the Cradle to Prison Pipeline ! As a 14 year young person of color, he has shared an amazing scholarly perspective on an issue that he and his peers are threatened by. Yet another great voice to be reckoned with as we build conversations on democratic education in America. Kudos again !

  2. The COFO Center

    Another fine article by this great youth reporter. This article will be shared with our younger audience members tonight for the COFO Civil Rights Education Center’s “hot topic” discussion on mass incarceration. Job well done!

  3. That’s ridiculous! Martin Luther King Jr. Banned Segregation, so repeating segregation is Horrible! There should be a law against that.

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