The School-to-Prison Pipeline
The “school-to-prison pipeline” is, in reality, two pipelines that combine to drive students out of the classroom, away from a pathway to success, and towards or into the juvenile or criminal justice system.
The first pipeline involves frequent suspensions and expulsions that remove students from their classrooms and disconnects them from their school community. Once outside of school, these students are far more at risk of justice system involvement. Youth are than twice as likely to be arrested during periods when they are suspended or expelled from school. This increased likelihood of arrest applies both to students with and without a prior history of delinquent behavior. The second pipeline involves arrest in school for behaviors better resolved through alternative approaches. Students are arrested and sent into the system for levels of disruptive behavior that in many cases could be handled through restorative or therapeutic approaches, leading to system involvement rather than addressing the underlying needs of that behavior.
The school-to-prison pipeline is driven by zero-tolerance policies, school funding cuts that have reduced the number of counselors and social workers that can support students with behavioral concerns and the presence of law enforcement. Far too often students of color, students with disabilities and students that are impacted by trauma are disproportionately disciplined and arrested rather than receiving the support and services that allow them to remain in the classroom and continue to make educational progress.
The school-to-prison pipeline is fully operational in Massachusetts, and it impacts students of color and students with disabilities the most. Black students are almost four times and Latino students three times as likely to be suspended as their white peers. Students with disabilities are suspended at three times the rate of their non-disabled peers. Most of these exclusions do not involve criminal or even serious violations. Non-violent, non-criminal and non-drug incidents accounted for two thirds (66.5 percent) of all out-of-school suspensions and 72 percent of in-school and out-of-school suspensions and expulsions combined were for minor misbehavior.
As a result of these exclusionary practices, students are missing a significant amount of time in the classroom. The statewide average for the number of days of instruction missed due to school discipline in Massachusetts is 16 days for every 100 enrolled students. This number doubles to 32 days for students with disabilities. For black students, the number is 34 days, more than triple the amount missed by white students (10 days).
The impact of these practices are devastating. Children who have been expelled or suspended from school once are much more likely to be disciplined similarly again, and two times more likely than their peers to drop out of school. Students who are arrested at school are three times more likely to drop out than their peers and students who drop out of school are more than eight times more likely to end up in the criminal justice system.
This is why CfJJ is strongly invested in advocacy to disrupt policies and practices that drive students from their classrooms and their school communities and towards juvenile and subsequent criminal justice system involvement. We stand for students impacted by trauma and with behavioral concerns and disabilities having access to developmentally appropriate and therapeutic interventions that address their underlying needs. Students regardless of their race, ethnicity, disability or socioeconomic status should have the necessary resources to meet their social, emotional, behavioral and academic needs and we are committed to working in solidarity with our coalition partners and with state agencies and local boards of education to bring that into reality.
Download our fact sheet on H.531/S.297, Promoting the Educational Success of Youth, a bill that will increase protections for students’ due process rights.
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