Becoming an Inmate: Is Prison a Student’s Only Future?

Before we start on my topic, here is a little something to think about

What if a a girl threw a tantrum during school? What if she was removed to another room by their teachers, but when she continued her behavior the administration called the police?

What if I told you she was arrested, handcuffed and taken to the station and charged with a felony and two misdemeanors? The felony being battery on a school official, and the misdemeanors being disruption of a school function and the resisting of a law enforcement officer? Or, what if it was found that more than 50 students of color from were taken to juvenile detention centers and were coerced into confessions without being read their rights? What if they were being sent for the smallest transgressions?

These what if’s may sound crazy and extreme, but what’s even more crazy is that these were actual events because of a disciplinary system, better known as the School-To-Prison pipeline.  In 2007, a six year old girl threw a tantrum during school in Florida that resulted in her arrest. She was charged with two misdemeanors and a felony and was booked and fingerprinted. In 2012 the United States vs City of Meridian case found that 77 studdents of color from Mississippi were taken to juvenile detention centers for reasons such as being tardy, rude to faculty, and using the bathroom without permission. 


For many students education is being denied because of strict policies that push them into prison rather than educate them. These occurances make up the School-To-Prison pipeline. Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that everyone has the right to an education. But, are you really getting an education if the school you go to would rather send you to prison than spend time to teaching you?

Read More About my Interest in my Personal Interest Essay:–ooc/edit?usp=sharing

Minorities’ Plight in the Classroom: School-To-Prison Pipeline 

What is the School-To-Prison Pipeline?

The school to prison pipeline is the disproportionate tendency of youth from disadvantaged backgrounds, mainly minorities, getting incarcerated due to the increasingly unjust and harsh disciplinary systems and policies in schools. These systems and policies employ harsh tactics and severe punishments to keep students in line, such as suspension, expulsion, and even arrests. Once suspended or expelled, students find themselves stigmatized by their community and more likely to come in contact with the police and later prison. A study done in 2018 found that experiencing only one suspension “increases an individual’s risk of dropping out of school by over 77%” (Pigott). Furthermore, suspensions and expulsions “are clear indicators of future under-education, unemployment, and incarceration” (Scott). Students of color are the most affected by this system.  In places with a high concentration of minorites, “there is an increase in school security in the form of metal detectors, security cameras, and bag searches” (Pigott). The latest statistics according to the American Civil Liberties Union points out that “Black youth are 4 times as likely to be arrested as their peers and 7 times as likely to be arrested for disorderly conduct” (ACLU).

The increased security and unequal impact on students of color leads a majority of scholars to believe that the root cause of the School-To-Prison pipeline are the “racist, discriminatory, and ineffective school policies” (Scott). These policies stem from a deep rooted ideology that “Black and Brown bodies are in need of surveillance and control”(Winn). In addition to students of color, students who are not excelling at school also tend to fall prey to the system. The No Child Left Behind Act of 2002 found a link between “school funding [and] test scores, giving schools incentives to dismiss problem students instead of helping them” (Pigott). 

The connection between school funding and pushing children into prison



The disciplinary policies behind the School-To-Prison pipeline

As mentioned above, the school to prison pipeline is the disproportionate tendency of youth from disadvantaged backgrounds, mainly minorities, getting incarcerated due to the increasingly unjust and harsh disciplinary systems and policies in schools. The action of combatting infractions, minor or major, with severe punishment is called zero-tolerance policy. The zero-tolerance policy was first used in federal drug enforcement policies in the early 1980s by the U.S. Navy. It was then adopted by the Customs service and allowed customs agents to charge in federal court and seize the belongings of anyone who was found with drugs.

It wasn’t until 1990 under the GUn-Free School Zones Act enacted under President Bill Clinton, that schools began to turn to zero-tolerance policies. Under this act, students had to be expelled for a year and then referred to the criminal justice system after bringing a weapon to school. All states were required to abide by the act or they would not receive any federal funding. Schools were able to modify and expand from only firearms to daggers, pocket knives, or grenades. However, in the early 2000s, zero-tolerance policies started to expand to include more and more punishable behaviors over the years, ranging from “possession of drugs, including Midol and aspirin, to possession of toy guns, insubordination, and disruption” (Dunbar). What started as policy for weapon control quickly escalated to behavioral checks, “many of which pose little or no threat to school safety” (Dunbar).


Read More About the History of the School-To-Prison Pipeline in my Background Essay:

One way we see these discriminatory policies manifest is through special education. Special education is a form of learning provided to students with learning challenges, but has been used as a solution for troubled students. This is done by classifying suspensions and expulsions as special education. Within special education, many soft categories are reliant on subjective assessments. These may vary across states and sometimes even within school districts. Students of color are disparately more impacted by the pipeline because they tend to receive more punishments. This leads to them being overrepresented in special education.  Students of color are frequently placed in special education not because they lack any ability, but because of the inadequate decision making by their teachers and administrators. Overrepresentation due to faulty decision making is simply an extension of the pipeline because special education is a “moderate predictor of future suspension, expulsion, under-education, unemployment, and incarceration”(Scott). It was also found that “Classification as special education masks segregation” and by “pathologizing students of color as disabled allows their continued segregation under a seemingly natural and justifiable label” (Meiners).


Read More About the Current School-To-Prison Pipeline in my Current Essay:


The most visionary response to the school to prison pipeline was under the Obama administration. In 2011, the U.S. Departments of Justice and Education issued a joint directive focused on abolishing school policies that contributed to the school-to-prison pipeline. Titled “The Supportive School Discipline Initiative”, the goal was to, agree, at the local, state and federal level as to what constitutes appropriate disciplinary procedures. Despite the intention, however, they are non-binding, only guidelines and recommendations.


Individual Solutions:
  • Volunteer with your community!!
    • Students who are struggling with school are more likely to be subjected to the school to prison pipeline. To prevent this you can volunteer as a tutor at a school that needs help. Personally, I recommend the organization Reading Partners. This organization sends volunteers to schools to help with students that are below their grade reading level. By tutoring a child, you are indirectly  combatting the school to prison pipeline. 


  • Reconize the Discriminatory Policies
    • Part of the School-To-Prison pipeline is due to the racist and ineffective policies that schools adopt. As individuals, we can educate ourselves and combat these beliefs by understanding the underlying racialized fears and challenging this way of thinking. The government won’t be able to check in on every single school so it is up to you to speak up with you see something wrong. 


Macro Solutions:
  • Adopt Restorative Justice
    • Restorative Justice is an alternative to harsh disciplinary measures, instead, it uses techniques that de-escalate and settle conflicts by encouraging bonds between and reconciling with students, teachers, and peers. It also decreases the number of offenses that can cause a students to recieve the disciplinary measures which would directly combat the fact that since the 1990s, schools have been expanding zero tolerance policies to include minor disruptions. 
    • A school district in Denver that adopted restorative justice found that “its school disciplinary practices experienced a reduction in student suspension by 44%” (Scott)


  • Set clear categories and assesments for special education
    • As mentioned above within special education, many soft categories are reliant on subjective assessments. These may vary across states and sometimes even within school districts. Students of color are frequently placed in special education not because they lack any ability, but because of the inadequate decision making by their teachers and administrators. 
    • By establishing  clear regulations we can stop overrepresentation in special education


Read More About Solutions in my Current Essay:

Works Cited and Consulted:


I would love to hear any thoughts you might have on my presentation.

  • Have you heard of the School-To-Prison pipeline before?
  • What is a big takeaway for you from this website?
  • What action steps do you think work best and will you consider partaking in any of them?


Share this project
  1. April 23, 2020 by Carl Thiermann

    Kylan—Excellent introduction and research—both the multiple-choice question and the personal introduction serve to pique the interest of the reader. That you follow up with relevant links (restorative justice) later on adds to the depth of the research. Restorative justice practices offer solutions to long-enduring disciplinary practices that schools have struggled with for generations. I think we will see positive change—at every school as the RJ practices are shared and studied. Good work!

  2. April 25, 2020 by Aaron

    I can’t believe that students are being taken to juvenile detention centers for being late to school or using the bathroom without permission. I think it is great that you are spreading awareness of this issue and hopefully this does not happen again in the future.

  3. April 25, 2020 by Cecelia

    Hey Kylan,
    I had never heard of the School-To-Prison pipeline before, and I found this information both interesting and mind-blowing. It is so sad that this a reality for so many young kids. My biggest takeaway is knowing that minorities are the most targeted because that is sad that it is a reality for today’s day and age. I think that an easy way to get involved is being a tutor and sharing my existent knowledge with others. Everyone is good at different things and I thing that tutoring is a great way to share these gifts.

  4. April 26, 2020 by Kyong

    Kylan, your web page is a culmination of months of research, discussions, and revisions, and you have created an excellent, comprehensive presentation. Your introductory hook pulls the reader in, and you explain the impact of the school-to-prison pipeline with clarity and empathy. I especially enjoyed your conclusion – you highlighted viable, existing solutions, and organized the response section in an accessible way. I appreciated your link to learn more about restorative justice in schools, and I am also curious to see how restorative justice works in the penal system as well. Thank you for bringing attention to this social injustice.

  5. April 27, 2020 by Sophia

    Hey Kylan! To answer your questions, I had never heard of the School-to-Prison pipeline before. Your title fascinated me and I was not disappointed when I clicked on it to learn more about this topic. My biggest takeaway from your web page was learning about the School-to-Prison pipeline and especially how it mostly impacted minority students. I would definelty be interested in volunteering with Reading Partners, as they seem to be a very effective solution. Your presentation was super informative and educated me on something I had never heard or even thought of before. Great job!

  6. April 27, 2020 by Andrea Garcia

    Hey Kylan! Great project! I had never heard of School-To-Prison pipeline before, but thanks for clarifying and making me aware of it. The information shown was mind blowing and is very essential to know to make a change within the community. I will be sure to look into volunteering with Reading Partners!

  7. April 27, 2020 by Ellie

    Hi Kylan! I’ve never heard of the School-to- Prison pipeline, and it’s crazy to think this is a norm that some kids struggle with everyday. This is definitely a topic that needs to be more attention and more acknowledged. It’s absolutely ridiculous to think that some students who go to school late or to the bathroom without permission can get arrested, this social injustice is absurd. The part that shocked me the most was “black youth are 7 times as likely to get arrested for disorderly conduct than their peers” and how this system really targets minorities. All in all, this project definitely left me thinking of the kids who are stuck in this harsh reality and how to help.

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