Among the objectives of Dignity in Schools Campaign California (DSC CA) is to expose and expand our movement’s political opportunities to dismantle what is called the school-to-prison pipeline, and to repair the intergenerational harm it is causing to youth, families, and communities across the nation.
In this article we provide a brief overview of the school-to-prison pipeline, including further resources for you to review.
What the Stats Reveal
To help describe the concept of the school-to-prison pipeline, the following stats provide a snapshot of the harsh school and district wide disciplinary policies and practices that keep mainly African American and Latino students from not only receiving an education, but create a path to being suspended, expelled, and ultimately incarcerated in state and federal prisons.
- Between 2013-2014, California K-12 schools reported 22,746 student referrals to police and 9,540 student arrests. 1
- Over 6,500 California students are expelled each year with minimal or no educational instruction provided while they are expelled. 2
- Over 280,000 California students are suspended from school each year, receiving minimal or no educational instruction while they are at home.3
- Black preschool children were 3.6 times more likely than white children to receive one or more out-of-school suspensions 4
- Central Valley school districts represent 21% of all school districts in California, but 40% of the high suspending districts in the state. 5
- Over half of Black “young men who attend urban high schools do not earn a diploma. Of the dropouts, nearly 60 percent will go to prison at some point.”6
- “61 percent of the incarcerated population are black or Latino – despite the fact that these groups only represent 30 percent of the U.S. population. Nearly 68 percent of all men in federal prison never earned a high school diploma. The fact that the U.S. has the highest incarceration rate in the world is no surprise and the road to lockup starts in the school systems.”7
The history of systemic racism, discrimination, and economic inequality and poverty places a heavy burden on students of color, particularly young Black and Latino males and it contributes to targeted and marginalized students being pushed into the school-to-prison pipeline, starting as early as pre-school.
How the Pipeline Works
DSC CA Strategy Team member, Tia Martinez, has outlined the school-to- prison pipeline, which contributes to a reported 11,532 incarcerated youth in California–the highest in the nation8
- Through often unfair, subjective, and zero tolerance discipline practices and policies, students are regularly suspended and expelled in schools. Though the data shows that suspensions have dropped in the last few years in California, many students still fall through the cracks and enter the pipeline. Furthermore, with the increase of police and school resource officers (SROs) on campus, students can actually be arrested, leading to even further problems down the line.
- When students are suspended or expelled from school, they are not getting access to classroom instruction, and thus they are two times more likely to become disengaged from school.
- In mostly communities of color, students who are not attending school and are left unsupervised in public spaces, are exposed to and targeted more often by police and law enforcement agencies in their communities.
- The exposure to police increases the probability of arrest, and it means suspended and expelled students are three times more likely to come in contact with the juvenile justice system, and detention in a juvenile facility.
- Getting placed into juvenile detention increases the risk of youth ultimately dropping out of school.
- In turn, the increase in juvenile detention and dropping out of school increases the probability of adult incarceration by 22 percentage points.
Sources of the Problem
In spite of the efforts to reform school discipline via restorative justice, positive behavior intervention strategies, coalitions, collaboratives, and campaigns, four factors remain unchallenged:
- The public education system was designed as and remains a tool to reproduce racial and class iniquity,
- Over the last 40 years, the rise of punitive school discipline has been intrinsically intertwined with the rise of police in schools and mass incarceration,
- Schools have been complicit in the exploitation of families and students by colluding with coercive systems such as law enforcement, juvenile justice, and child welfare; and
- The school to prison pipeline is an insidious gatekeeper to much needed social services – in other words, students and families often cannot access counseling and other services until a school-initiated punishment or contact with law enforcement occurs, which is more than too late
In other words, over the last four decades, police and prisons have positioned and sold themselves as the providers and facilitators of social welfare in Black, Brown, indigenous, and economically/politically marginalized communities, in the name of safety, law, and order.
School discipline and other forms of social control of behavior at schools are derived from this prevailing ideology that certain behaviors are akin to criminal acts (or precursors to criminality) which must be met with punishment, also in the name of safety and order.
A by-product of this ideology, and a true opportunity to build a movement for radical change, is that the disciplinary action is in many instances the precursor to students/families receiving support, services, and the oft-needed closer examination of root causes.
All of our collective efforts seek to address the harm that has been done to each of these communities, a harm that needs to be repaired.
As a statewide network, DSC CA believes that in order for parents and communities to restore community control and direct their own welfare, we must:
- Force schools to dismantle their relationships with law enforcement and reimagine their relationship with other systems like the child welfare system.
- Organize with those most negatively impacted and marginalized by the school-to-prison pipeline to radically imagine alternatives to the existing punishment-driven approach to social welfare.
For more information about Dignity In Schools Campaign California (DSC CA), check out About page.
1 https://www.aclunc.org/publications/right-remain-student-how-ca-school-policies-fail- protect-and-serve
4 https://thinkprogress.org/new-data-shows-the-school-to-prison-pipeline-starts-as-early- as-preschool-80fc1c3e85be/
5 Central Valley Action Team Videoconference Presentation 9.23.15 CORRECTED
6 http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/education_futures/ 2015/08/5_facts_everyone_needs_to_know_about_the_school-to-prison_pipeline.html
7 http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/education_futures/ 2015/08/5_facts_everyone_needs_to_know_about_the_school-to-prison_pipeline.htm
8 https://www.childrennow.org/about-us/press-releases/new-report-shows-californias- youth-incarceration-among-highest-nation-and-largely-ineffective/