Influences on the School to Prison Pipeline



Influences on the School to Prison Pipeline


Anna Capre







  What is the School to Prison Pipeline?

The school to prison pipeline is a system that pushes students out of school into juvenile detention centers to jail and eventually to prison. It can be a result of unfair treatment and improper criminalization on behalf of the school. It commonly entraps students that typically come from specific backgrounds and influences. School policies, such as “Zero Tolerance”, push students to get in trouble without teachers and administration taking the time to find the root of the issue.   
"In the last decade, the punitive and overzealous tools and approaches of the modern criminal justice system have seeped into our schools, serving to remove children from mainstream educational environments and funnel them onto a one way path toward prison. The School to Prison Pipeline is one of the most urgent challenges in education today.” (NAACP 2005)

Spending Time in the Pipeline


“They never tried to understand why I was acting out..” -Student from Florida 


“ You can’t lay a seed on the ground and expect it to grow if you’re not watering it and if you’re not making sure it gets the proper care. I just felt like they kept expecting it but it wasn’t really putting in on it.” -Student from Florida

Real Situations and Infractions


  • Throwing a lollipop-BATTERY
  • Tapping pencil on desk-DESTRUCTION OF PROPERTY
  • Going to the bathroom-DISRUPTION OF A SCHOOL FUNCTION

Main Influences


Issues in the Home


Domestic Violence: 
  • Students tend to exhibit low performance
  • They can be resilient to teacher authority and more aggressive
  • Compared to their peers, they misbehave by over 16%
  • If a boy is experiencing domestic violence, it will have a larger effect on the classroom as opposed to if a girl was experiencing domestic violence

Substance abuse:
  • Parental substance abuse makes students become emotionally drained and depressed
  • Sometimes they can act out in order to make themselves feel better
  • With a parent abusing drugs at home, it can result in a decrease in student attendance and the student having inconsistent academic work 


  • This can affect about 50% of the children in a classroom
  • Students can exhibit a hard time making decisions
  • They also tend to have lower self-esteem and have a hard time adjusting to new things 

  • Students who go home home at a young age every day due to various reasons such as having working parents
  • These children struggle to follow rules since they get to make their own rules when they are home alone
  • They also have poor academic achievement
  • Often fall into drug and substance abuse


Incarerated Parents:
  • Students that have one or more parent in prison
  • Today, 2.7 million students are affected in our classrooms
  • Of those 2.7 million, 45% perfect are African American, 28% are White, and 21% Hispanic
  • Students with incarerated parents are more likely to end up in jail or eventually prison
  • They are more likely to be held back due to behavior issues
  • Some of the behavior issues stem from the common trend of ADHD in these students


Education Issues


Teacher Education:

Some teachers can find themselves picking  on certain students bringing about aggression and violence into the classroom. With some classroom violence, teachers can be encouraging it without even realizing it. One example is asking students continually a question when there is clearly one right answer. When a teacher responds to a wrong answer by making a comment like “someone wasn’t listening” this only upsets the students and brings about violence. 

Detentions, Suspensions, Explusions, and Alternative Schools:

Students end up getting into more trouble because they are left to eventually spend more time at home and outside of the classroom where the problems originated from. From first hand experience, I have seen in school suspensions and detentions become ineffective. One student I met liked them because she could catch up on her homework since her life at home was too distracting. He/she was an incredibly smart student but had issues going on at home that made it really hard to do her school work. As a result, he/she would trouble himself/herself into getting detentions and in school to find some peace. Expulsions put the students back in the home or on the streets. Alternative school usually does the same thing. Students are left for hours every day spending time sitting in boredom at home. As a result the students get in more trouble and get pushed into the pipelines.



Students with learning disabilities suffered by being pushed into the pipeline from not receiving the proper care. These students are often unrecognized or can be triggered into becoming more violent just by misunderstanding them and not meeting their needs. Students with learning disabilities make up 85% of the students in the pipeline. Only 37% have received special education in the school leaving 48% of students unidentified with a disability while they were in school and uneligible for the special education they need.



If a student is constantly being picked on, a student might get to a point where he/she begins to lose it. Some students that are being bullied can be accused of bullying as well. Policies intended to stop bullying actually have triggered certain students into the pipeline.


Demographic Influences  




Race and Ethnicity:

It has been clear from the beginning certain racial backgrounds and ethnic groups are in the pipeline as opposed to others.

  • About 10% of African American students are expelled from school
  • About 1% of White students are expelled from school
  • In southern states, African American students account for less than a quarter of the public school population
  • In southern states, over half of the African American students receive school punishments. In turn, they get put in the court system and into the pipeline they go.



  • Boys are more likely to be punished in the school system than girls in almost every racial/ethnic group
  • The disparities can be seen in the image above





Current Practices


Zero Tolerance policies have been on the rise at schools within the past decade. These policies insist that students get reprimanded the second an incident occurs. School officers have been places in school hallways to try to enforce the zero tolerance policies. The school officers can can an increase in student aggression because they might want to be more resilent since no one is taking the time to understand them. Students have also been pushed out of school by going under out of school suspensions or explusion.

In turn, students are left in their homes and typically under no supervision where they can run into trouble from bordemn or if they are truly struggling with something. Despite students performing less violent crimes, there is a rise in the number of suspensions and explusions happening. These policies have proved to be ineffective and don't make schools any more orderly or safe. However, about 90% of schools have this policy in effect in some capacity.







Schools are beginning to turn away from zero tolerance policies and moving into more supportive policies. Only during the past five years has the damages of zero tolerance policies been coming to light.


In a Ted Talk, Debra Postil talks about the issues of the school to prison pipeline and how we can rewrite the pipeline. She has a unique perspective in that she thinks the prosecutors, police, and school all need to come together to dismantle the pipeline.


A lot of research is coming out for new solutions for the school systems. Some are arguing the need for federal intervention to protect the students and prevent more students from being pushed into the pipeline. Some of the solutions involve the following topics:

  • Effective Teacher Collaboration

This is a practice where teachers would have scheduled meetings to talk about students that have been showing some discipline problems and talk about solutions as a team. This is also a time where teachers can reflect and discuss the new policy.

  • Empowering and Educating the Educators

This is a practice where administration shows the research and data to the educators as to why the new policies are being out in place. This also serves as a way to show teachers how to properly discilpine students in a way that matches the supportive policies in place.

  • Looking for Moments of Opportunity

This is a practice where teachers look for moments to intervene with students and see why they were acting up or if there is anything the students want to talk about. Occasionally, students just need someone to talk to in order to relieve some tension they are feeling. The teacher can in turn direct them to a counselor or more professional care.


The American Bar Association gathered a task force to look at the trends we see with the school to prison pipeline. This task force released a draft of a comprehensive portfolio in Febrary 2016. This portfolio is one of the first of its kind. It includes legislation, town hall meetings, school discipline reports, school demographics, and societal consequences of the school to prison pipeline. There has been more and more attention on the issue but this is one of the first times all of the influences and consequences have been gathered into one file. the portfolio is incredibly helpful to look at how bad the issue really is. The portfolio and report can be found below.


Some of the things noted the American Bar plans to achieve in hopes of dismantling the pipeline are found below. The detailed report includes some of the first published suggestions for new regulations. The American Bar plans on having meetings and training sessions on how to implement these regulations effectively.

  • They believe their should be better legal support students who are being excluded in schools
  • There needs to be collaborations between the law enforcement, school officers, deans, and teachers
  • Policies should be put in place to protect LGBTQ students and students with disabilities
  • Training modules should be developed on Implicit Bias and De-Biasing
  • Encourage youth mentoring
  • Zero Tolerance Policies need to be eliminated
  • Legislation needs to be made to stop the criminalization of students who are not a threat to the student body
  • Legislation also needs to be made to reduce the explusions and suspensions for low level offenses
  • School Resource Officers need proper training on dismantling the school to prison pipeline
  • Train educators on the difference between educator discipline and law enforcement discipline
  • Data from schools needs to be reported and public to keep track and hold schools accoutable to disproportianality




Dismantling the Pipeline 


Restorative Practices-Based Education System


This is a displinary system that would help the administration and school get to the heart of why a student is acting out of misbehaving. By counselors and trained professionals working with students, students will have a time to reflect on why they were misbehaving and chose to act the way they did. This "pause" students would be forced to take might eliminate further problems. Counselors would also be able to meet the students psychological needs during the process. A restorative practices-based education system would also prevent certain demongraphics from being pushed into the pipeline.

For more information on a tool kit for this practice, NEA has collaborated individual researchers and professionals to create the following:

This is a comprehensive guide on how schools should address this topic and what practices they should adapt.


An example of a restorative practice-based education system versus the zero-tolerance education system many schools now have is below.





Building Stronger Communities


Community Centers:

  • These centers provide support for the community
  • They give students a place to go after school
  • Students go for various reasons but they play a vital role in the success of the community

From personal experience, I have seen community centers make students reevaluate their lives and set them on a better track. In a community where they are constantly being accused by issues beyond their control (race, gender, etc.), students learn to defend and act quickly in response to others. Some of the community centers work with the students to teach them how to think before they act. In turn, community centers help students from getting in trouble or in further trouble.


Educating the Educators


Schools that are under-resourced need to learn how to promote healthy learning environments. Students also need to be able to receive the resources they need when an issue needs to be intervened. If a student has a special need, that need should be identified early on and that can be done by educating the educators in how to look our for signs a student needs additional help. Students also need the psychological resources to talk to someone about any issues they may be having.
The more a school discovers the root of why a student acted out or was accused of acting out, the healthier and more sustainable the school will be overall.