The term ‘School to Prison Pipeline,’ also known as ‘Cradle to Prison Pipeline’ describes the disproportionate impact of historical education policies, such as zero tolerance, on people of color and vulnerable populations. The effect of this is more students being sent to juvenile detention centers with an inevitable increase in racial inequality. Typically, lower-income schools use stricter behavior management systems that implement immediate punishment, instead of using positive reinforcement and other positive behavioral strategies. In lieu of this, some steps have been made in the right direction by politicians, such as Bernie Sanders and Ayanna Pressley, who are joining the fight to end School-to-Prison pipelines. Addressing and amending this issue will set in motion a long-overdue fight to reach equality in the United States.
According to an article written on neaToday, “In 2010, more than 3 million students were suspended from school, aka double the level of suspensions in the 1970s. Meanwhile, more than a quarter-million were ‘referred’ to police officers for misdemeanor tickets, very often for offenses that once would have elicited a stern talking-to.” NEA shares another reason that students are more likely to go to Juvenile Detention Centers if they live in low-income areas is because there are less school resources and more budget cuts. This results in less educational staff monitoring at any given moment, and instead filling those gaps with school police officers. In-school officers are constantly monitoring the ongoings of students in a more strict manner, which leads to an increase of student punishments.
Specifically, Black students represent 15% of public school students, yet they represent 31% of all students referred to law enforcement, and other students of color are also disproportionately arrested in schools (specifically Native American, and LatinX). When these students are kicked out of school they are left with nowhere to go and no community to hold on to. Often, many students get involved in illegal activity and drugs and alcohol due to their lack of direction and school time.
This trend is reflected across multiple underrepresented groups. People with disabilities face harsher punishments than their able-bodied counterparts, especially in affluent schools, according to Huffington Post. “In affluent schools, students with disabilities are overrepresented among students who receive suspensions by 20 points, while in low-income schools, they are overrepresented by nearly 11 points.” This can cause issues because studies show that students who are suspended at least once during their secondary education are more likely to drop out of school, and more likely to enter the criminal justice system. However, some critics argue that less suspensions means more dangerous and disruptive students in the classroom, which can pose a threat to other students and staff members.
As the presidential election of 2020 has begun to ramp up, various left-leaning candidates have spoken up about the need to change the school-to-prison pipeline trajectory. According to a Buzzfeed article, both Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders have learned about the injustices in the school systems, primarily for students of colors, and have agreed to provide more resources to low-income schools, if elected.
Another politician, Ayanna Pressley, a United States Representative for Massachusetts’ 7th district (including the city of Boston), and the first black woman elected to Congress from Massachusetts, has spoken up about ending the School-to-Prison Pipeline in the HuffPost. Pressley has specifically focused her activism on young black girls. HuffPost shares that black girls are “five times more likely to be suspended than white girls, according to a 2017 report from the National Women’s Law Center, which used data from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights from 2013-2014.”
In December 2019, Pressley announced criminal justice proposals, which included the Ending PUSHOUT Act, aiming to stop discriminatory punishment in schools, specifically for black and brown students. The Ending PUSHOUT Act, which stands for Punitive, Unfair, School-Based Harm, that is Overt and Unresponsive to Trauma, would bring in money to provide teachers with implicit bias training, hire more school counselors and social workers, and change school discipline regulations based on community input. In order to be eligible for the program, schools have to decrease suspensions and expulsions, and ban corporal punishment for all students. Pressley is one of the first politicians, after President Obama, to take concrete steps towards fighting the School to Prison Pipeline that currently exists in our society and causes extreme disadvantage to students of color.
As Pressley articulately stated, “We must work in partnership with communities to develop holistic solutions that center the lived experiences of girls of color who have been most impacted by cruel and discriminatory school policies and practices.” Especially as President Trump decreases regulations already in place to help the most at-risk populations, we must fight to end the School-to-Prison Pipeline and provide all students with equitable opportunities. This is one necessary action to reach the goal of facing inequality in the United States and prevent unnecessary crowding in juvenile detention centers with innocent youth.