How the ‘school-to-prison pipeline’ targets Black, underprivileged communities

Political science senior Damonte Forney believes the “school-to-prison” pipeline is systemic.  

Where you live determines the kind of education you receive growing up, Forney said. If a child is rich and white, they’re going to live in a wealthy community. They’re going to a school with extracurricular activities and all the resources to help them succeed. 

But if someone like him, an African American person, lives in an impoverished area with little investment in its communities, Forney said there will be a lot of crime, and schools won’t have proper resources. 

“It’s clear as day,” he said. “It just shows how systemic it is.”  

The school-to-prison pipeline is the process by which students are pushed out of schools through disciplinary policies like “zero-tolerance” and can potentially end up in prison.  

Jaya Davis, criminology and criminal justice associate professor, said she talks about the pipeline issue in her juvenile justice classes. 

If a child acts out in a negative way, then their school is more likely to involve law enforcement, and those more punitive schools are located in areas with a disproportionate number of minority students, Davis said. 

According to the Anti-Defamation League, many of these children have learning disabilities or histories of poverty, abuse or neglect. The practice also targets students of color more than white students. 

The organization states that 31% of student-related arrests in the U.S. are Black, even though Black students only represent 16% of total enrollment. They are also three times more likely to get suspended or expelled than white students. 

Davis said there has been research from academics, nonprofits and governmental agencies that all indicate that the school-to-prison pipeline exists, and that it became known in the 1990s when schools implemented zero-tolerance policies related to drug and gang activity. 

The most direct way the pipeline affects minority students is related to the likelihood of schools continuing to implement zero-tolerance policies, Davis said. 

Because these policies are used in schools many minority students attend, Davis said it’s likely to see those students caught up in juvenile justice and criminal justice processes. 

This system also makes it so that minority children as young as preschool and elementary have higher rates of suspension and expulsion from school, and being arrested for their behavior can bring them into the pipeline, Davis said. 

“Kids that get lost in the system are hard to pull back out,” she said. 

Criminal justice junior Olamide Ayanwale thinks one way to resolve the school-to-prison pipeline is for administrators and educators to start working at a ground level where more faults may be found, and work their way up.  

Ayanwale said another resolution to the issue can begin with parents of minority students vocalizing what they believe is wrong and advocating for what their children need for a better future. 

Most importantly, Ayanwale said officials need to want to change.  

Davis recommends a shift in priorities. The 90s policies regarding zero-tolerance of drugs and gangs ended up targeting the children more than the issues they were a part of, she said. 

In order to support student success, resources like counselors and academic coaches should be allocated to schools where discipline is a problem, Davis said. Discussions about city resources like law enforcement and mental health will also benefit the kids. 

Ultimately, where officials put their resources is going to be where the most problems are solved, she said. 


Like our work? Don’t steal it! Share the link or email us for information on how to get permission to use our content.

Click here to report an accessibility issue.

Load comments