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From Playground to Prison Yard: The School-to-Prison Pipeline


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My Interest

The Problem

Public education was created as a method to help protect and aid children, but transformed into a system that criminalized and targeted minority students. This problem has been prevalent throughout American history, and has become exacerbated through laws and policies that single out certain students of color. To school-to-prison pipeline is a system that naturalizes the movement of students from their schools into prison. As schools implement zero-tolerance policies such as suspension and expulsion, students are pushed out of schools, into the streets, and into prisons. This issue is aggravated as schools become more militarized with increased police presence and unnecessary security precautions such as x-rays and bag searches before school(Dewitt). All of these measures are more present in schools predominantly dominated by low income students and have significantly little resources. These facets of our education system all contribute to the disparities between students of color, funneling them towards prison.

For a quick overview:

Historical Overview

The school-to-prison pipeline is not a new system. By the end of the 1990s, federal law encouraged states to incentive police in schools, raising suspension and expulsion rates. Although intense surveillance can exist in any school, schools that are majority students color have historically relied on reactionary security measures, leading to poor and hostile learning environments. Throughout history, expulsion rates have risen, especially for students of color. Beginning in the 1960s in LA, teachers began moving the responsibility of punishment of students away from schools, creating a vicious cycle where students are punished, expelled and sent into the streets where police were ready to move them towards prison. Borrowed from the war on drugs, states began enforcing these ideas in a very widespread matter and suspension rates rose from 1.7 million in 1974 to 3.1 million in 2000. To visit a more complete overview of the history of the pipeline, visit here.

Present-Day Overview

The public education system now still uses many of these practices, and continues to funnel minority students towards incarceration. Their rates of expulsion and suspension for students of color are much higher and intense than their peers, as they demonstrate the discrepancies between the treatment of students based on race. Although 16% of students are Black, 35% of expelled students are Black. Black students are three times more likely to be arrested, four times more likely to dropout. These dropouts are four times more likely to be arrested (Choice). Within schools, criminalization of normal behaviors is consistent themes in many schools. Behaviors like pushing and shoving turn into battery and talking back has turned into disorderly conduct. This system is not only disproportionately affecting these students’ educations, but their whole lives, as they become trapped in the prison system(Nance). To read more about the school-to-prison pipeline now, click here.

A Call for Action

Although as students there are not very many steps we can take to fix the bigger problems around us, we can help in the classroom. Students can educate their teachers and administrators about restorative justice. Teachers and administrators can also work to help implement alternative methods of punishment and conversation with students into the classroom. Although small, these changes can begin to unravel the biased and racist system that exists.

Macro Solution

There are many solutions to combat the school-to-prison pipeline. These reforms must come from schools and prisons. Within schools, zero tolerance policies and other forms of criminalization need to be eradicated in order to stop the pipeline. Punishments must be adjusted to move away from suspension and expulsion, and more towards tactics as restorative justice. Restorative justice is a method of punishment in schools that focuses on communication and building stronger relationships to adjust and fix behaviors (Wechsler). Additionally, police should be removed from schools, along with security measures that are superfluous, reinforcing the pipeline. To read more about how the pipeline can be eradicated, click here.

Additional Resources:

To see all my citations, click here.

Thank you so much for reading my page! I hope you learned something and hopefully took something away from my project, and are more aware of the effects our biased school system has on students. Please use the comments below to provide some constructive criticism.

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COMMENTS: 9
  1. April 25, 2019 by Hannah Robbins Reply

    This page was really informative! I had never really learned about this issue, but now I see how important it is in our society and I want to do what I can to help. Do you think that we could help make change through contacting our local politicians (mayors, people on the city council, congresspeople) or do you think that this is an issue that can only be resolved through the schools?

  2. April 26, 2019 by Levi K Reply

    Super interesting page! Well done!

  3. April 28, 2019 by Asta.Sjogren-Uyehara Reply

    Outstanding job! I knew what the school-to-prison pipeline was, and I marginally understood it, but this helped me gain a deeper and more sophisticated understanding of this issue. I feel better educated on a topic that thoroughly interests me, thank you!

  4. April 28, 2019 by Ethan de Anda Sanchez Reply

    Great Job! A very interesting and relevant topic that I knew very little about before this,

  5. April 29, 2019 by Jaya.Dayal Reply

    Saman I loved your project! You displayed the information really really well and clearly and I think tackled a very controversial subject but one that is not talked about enough very effectively. How did you learn about the school to prison pipeline and what made you do this project on it?

  6. April 30, 2019 by Ingrid Reply

    I loved this page since it taught me so much about this issue and how important it is to this community. Since this topic is something that is not talked about much, I am glad you brought it up to create awareness.

  7. April 30, 2019 by Kyong Pak Reply

    Well done, Saman! You presented the information with clarity, and provided compelling images and videos. I’d love to learn more about the restorative justice practices being utilized in Oakland Unified schools. It seems like a win-win in terms of caring for a student’s well-being and future as well as a cost effective approach. Thank you for shining a light on this issue, and offering a viable and humane solution.

  8. April 30, 2019 by Alexandra Polverari Reply

    Great presentation! I had never heard about the school to prison pipeline, and this presentation taught me a lot. I liked how you provided solutions that can start on smaller levels-it proves everyone can make a difference.

  9. May 01, 2019 by Maya Reply

    I loved your presentation Saman! I thought you did a great job presenting your information in a way that was easy to understand and concise. Your solution is clear and could be easily implemented in school. I’m glad I got to learn about your topic.

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