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School to Prison Pipeline

What is the School to Prison Pipeline?

The school to prison pipeline is the connection between the American education system, and the American prison system. Sometimes called the school-prison nexus, this increased connection between law enforcement and public schools funnels students into the juvenile justice system for school-based offenses.

Key Takeaways

  • The school to prison pipeline disproportionately impacts marginalized students.

  • Increased Law enforcement presence and school disruption laws contribute to the school to prison pipeline.

  • The school to prison pipeline is a one-way path.

Understanding the School to Prison Pipeline

The school to prison pipeline, or SPP, is a system that uses expedited and overly harsh discipline in public schools to push out underperforming students. One way schools expedite discipline is with zero tolerance policies, school rules that automatically impose punishment regardless of circumstance. As zero tolerance policies have become more common school suspensions have increased, from 1.7 million suspensions in 1974 to 3.1 million in 2000.

In addition to zero-tolerance policies, another contributor to the school-prison nexus is school-disruption laws. These laws make disrupting a school environment an arrestable offense. This, in practice, means students can be arrested for talking in class, running in halls, and so on. These laws, paired with increased police presence in schools, have led to a rise in school-based arrests.

The majority of school-based arrests are for nonviolent offenses, and the children arrested are overwhelmingly students of color, disabled, or low income. Students who have been arrested may have probation conditions contingent on school behavior, remanding them back to juvenile detention for missing class or not doing their homework.

Students who are coming out of juvenile detention are often sent to alternative schools, some run by for-profit prisons. If a student is expelled from an alternative education school, they are unlikely to ever return to traditional education.

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