Stopping the Prison Pipeline

League of Women Voters Washtenaw County

Sep 30 2021 • 1 hr 11 mins

The phrase school-to-prison pipeline describes the way strict discipline, in the form of suspensions and expulsions for simple infractions, falls disproportionately on Black and Brown students and pushes them out of school and into the growing system of mass incarceration.  The University of Texas School of Social Work says there are 4 things we need to know about the pipeline:

1) Children of color are more likely to live in poverty than their peers;

2) Children of color and all those growing up in poverty are less likely to receive quality education;

3) Children of color face stricter discipline in schools;

4) Children of color are more likely to end up in prison.

A recent study from Harvard, Boston University, and the University of Colorado confirms this phenomenon. As the researchers wrote in Education Next:

"Our findings show that early censure of school misbehavior causes increases in adult crime – that there is, in fact, a school-to-prison pipeline…Any effort to maintain safe and orderly school climates must take into account the clear and negative consequences of exclusionary discipline practices for young students, and especially young students of color, which last well into adulthood."

The researchers also stated:

"Misbehaving peers can have strong negative impacts on other students in the classroom, and all students need a safe, predictable, and peaceful environment to thrive…But our findings show that the school-to-prison pipeline is real and poses substantial risks for students in strict school environments."

And outcomes such as higher likelihood of adult incarceration pose substantial problems for society as a whole.
So let’s start with the schools. We can all recognize that all students need a safe environment to thrive. What can be done to ensure that students arrive in the classroom ready to learn rather than misbehave? And when misbehavior occurs, what can be done to mitigate its effect not only on others in the classroom, but on the student exhibiting the behavior?

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