The school to prison pipeline is a term used to describe the alarmingly increasing number of students having contact with the juvenile criminal court systems, because of the implemented zero-tolerance policies by the educational institutions. Zero-tolerance policies are implemented in schools around the United States, and through these policies, students are at risk for having contact with the juvenile justice system due to infractions that were once handled by school administrators.
Through mandatory expulsion and referral of students to the law enforcement system, thousands of youth each year are entering into a pipeline that will lead them from their educational setting into formal court processing, incarceration in correctional facilities, and juvenile records that diminish opportunities for education, employment, and other social benefits (Gabbidon & Peterson). Schools should not be punishing students for what would otherwise be considered childhood pranks such as throwing food or fake playing dead.
Rather than removing students from the school environment altogether, school officials must understand their role in nurturing students into successful adults. School systems around the country are implementing policies that end up pushing youth out of the school system and into the juvenile justice system (Tolan & Guerra, 2010). These interscholastic policies like the zero-tolerance reform movement result in students’ suspensions and expulsions which can be detrimental to students’ educational goals.
Zero-tolerance policies were developed by the US Justice Department; they were created to provide consistency across all schools regardless of geographical location. School administrators wanted to ensure every student was receiving an equal education regardless of where they lived. The first laws against drugs and weapons began appearing during this period as well (Gabbidon & Peterson, 2004). School disciplinary policies were viewed as a means to ensure a safe school environment, and to maintain order.
School administrators believed that their communities would not tolerate the presence of weapons or drugs at school, and for this reason, it was necessary for them to implement tough disciplinary policies (Tolan & Guerra, 2010). School systems were also influenced by politics: during the 1980s and 1990s crime rates increased dramatically largely due to social factors such as poverty and racial discrimination. School districts wanted to put an end to these crimes that were affecting students on their campuses (Gabbidon & Peterson. 2004).
A movement toward stricter disciplinary actions began in 1983 when the US Congress passed the Drug-Free School Zone Act which required schools across America to expel students who possessed or sold illegal substances on campus. Even though this was already a school rule it soon became a required law that every student break. School administrators wanted to ensure students were being held accountable for their actions and zero-tolerance policies seemed to be the solution (Gabbidon & Peterson. ).
School systems began implementing these harsher consequences in an attempt to increase safety on campus, but in reality, schools ended up pushing students out of the educational system instead. Schools also began collaborating with law enforcement agencies which led them to enact laws such as mandatory expulsions for drug possession regardless of if it occurred on or off-campus (Tolan & Guerra, 2010). The Student Transportation Act Another piece of legislation for students’ suspension rates was the Student Transportation Act.
The School Transportation Act requires students who are suspended from school to be provided with a safe and reliable way of getting back and forth to school, but no other destinations. School systems have been able to use this federal law as a loophole by simply kicking students out of the public transportation services (Gabbidon & Peterson. , 2004). School officials will readily expel students for breaking any rules instead of trying to figure out why the student is acting out or if harsh punishment is truly an effective discipline strategy.
Zero tolerance policies that lead schools to refer youth into the criminal justice system do not work; they do more harm than good (USDOJ School-to-Prison Pipeline). These policies hurt the development and overall well-being of youth. School administrators across the country are not using common sense when applying these disciplinary actions; they take student safety much too seriously (Tolan & Guerra, 2010). School districts need to find alternative methods that will allow them to maintain safe learning environments without pushing students out of school and into the criminal justice system.
School systems must understand that arresting students is not protecting them, it is simply compromising their education. School officials must stop suspending students for minor misbehaviors such as dress code violations e etcetera. They must also stop referring students as young as five years old into the juvenile justice system for behaviors that could have been otherwise handled in school (Reeves, 2013). The School-to-Prison Pipeline
Julianne Hing of The Nation reports that American students are suspended more than students anywhere else in the world, and African-American students are three times as likely to be suspended as their white counterparts. School policies have created what has been called “the School-to-Prison Pipeline” where students are pushed out of school through zero-tolerance disciplinary activities such as suspensions. These policies disproportionately affect minority youth who are already at risk for disparities in educational achievement, juvenile justice involvement, adult criminal behavior, poverty, poor health outcomes e etcetera.
Education Secretary’s Racial Mistreatment investigative directive On January 8 th 2014 U. S. Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan released an investigative directive that calls for school systems to examine their discipline policies. School officials have come under great scrutiny for applying harsh disciplinary action against students who are not white. School administrators must be more proactive in suspending students of color because they too often use verbal abuse, physical force, or restraints when dealing with minority students according to this directive (Hing, 2014).
The United States Department of Justice School-to-Prison pipeline On May 23 rd, 2013 the United States Department of Justice published a School-to-Prison Pipeline resource guide. They compiled this document as a follow-up to President Obama’s initiative called “My Brother’s Keeper. ” This DOJ publication is addressed to “students, parents, school administrators, teachers, community members, and other stakeholders. ” It outlines ways in which everyone can work together to ensure students are treated fairly.
School officials need to understand that zero-tolerance policies are not working because they do not help students learn from their mistakes or prevent future violence (USDOJ School-to-Prison Pipeline). Schools must maintain positive learning environments free of harassment and discrimination. School personnel should be aware of the laws prohibiting racially discriminatory disciplinary practices. School districts must confront these issues by developing appropriate policies and procedures that clearly define prohibited conduct as well as consequences