The ACLU defines it as “a disturbing national trend wherein children are funneled out of public schools and into the juvenile and criminal justice systems.” Regrettably, this trend not endemic in the United States. Their description continues, “Many of these children have learning disabilities or histories of poverty, abuse or neglect, and would benefit from additional educational and counseling services. Instead, they are isolated, punished and pushed out. ‘Zero-tolerance’ policies criminalize minor infractions of school rules, while cops in school lead to students being criminalized for behavior that should be handled inside the school. Students of color are especially vulnerable to push-out trends and the discriminatory application of discipline.” Observations of this dead-end pathway suggest that it functions both directly and indirectly, like high stakes testing requirements for example.
The school-to-prison pipeline is a scheme that exploits at-risk-youth and exacerbates cultural inequalities. Carla Amurao reports “Students who are forced out of school for disruptive behavior are usually sent back to the origin of their angst and unhappiness—their home environments or their neighborhoods, which are filled with negative influence. Those who are forced out for smaller offenses become hardened, confused, embittered. Those who are unnecessarily forced out of school become stigmatized and fall behind in their studies; many eventually decide to drop out of school altogether, and many others commit crimes in their communities.”
In what can be viewed as yet another form of racial oppression, Wikipedia outlines a number of factors that collide to form the school-to-prison pipeline.
Zero-tolerance policy: This process “imposes severe discipline on students without regard to individual circumstances. The American Bar Association has been critical of these policies, calling them a ‘one-size-fits-all solution’ that ‘has redefined students as criminals.’” Additionally, the policy is connected to a rise in suspension rates, predominantly for Blacks and Latinos accused of non-violent crimes such as cell phone use, truancy and dress code violations. Findings also indicate that zero-tolerance policies put children on the fast track for incarceration.
High stakes testing: Thanks to the No Child Left Behind Act, an increasing number of schools are penalized for poor test scores. As a result, teachers in under-performing schools are pressured to spend a large amount of time preparing students for these tests which are thought to promote dogmatic memorization, with little emphasis on developing critical thinking skills. Additional studies show that minority (read, Blacks & Latinos) are excessively subject to exit exams which determine eligibility to graduate. Ironically “These same students are likely to be in schools that have less funding and larger class sizes. Furthermore, their schools are often suffering—due to being punished for low test scores.”
Excessive policing: Often carried out by poorly trained officers.
Unequal sentencing: Parallel to the recent our recent story discussing Noam Chomsky’s take on the “War on Drugs”, studies show students with lower test scores receive more punitive action for breaking the rules than that of pupils at others schools.
Resource diversion: The ACLU claims that resources used to beef up security in pipeline prone schools could be used to enrich them, as these institutes typically lack essential resources such as textbooks computers, and libraries.
Institutional similarity: Directly from the informational site “Another facet of the school-to-prison pipeline involves overlapping patterns of institutional structure. These include disciplinary and bureaucratic practices for storing human beings in buildings, as well as institutional culture that degrades the people affected. A simple but widespread example of this culture is the division of students into “good kids” and “bad kids,” which paves the way for the promotion of some and the abandonment of others (often resulting in identification with ‘badness’)”
SuspensionStories.com’s info-graphic illustrates the process rather vividly: