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  • Writer's pictureLa Voz Latina

The School-to-Prison Pipeline: Reforming Discipline in Schools

Written by: Ariana Tsegai 🇪🇷



Alexandra Lorincz working in McKeldin Library on Sept.25,2023. (John Valencia)


In America's halls of education, there exists a grim reality that has persisted for far too long—the School-to-Prison Pipeline. This destructive system disproportionately targets black and brown students, channeling them from schools directly into the criminal justice system. It's an issue that demands our urgent attention and a complete overhaul of our approach to discipline in schools.


The School-to-Prison Pipeline is a chain reaction of harsh disciplinary practices that systematically push vulnerable students out of classrooms and into the arms of law enforcement. These practices include suspensions, expulsions, and arrests for minor infractions, effectively criminalizing behavior that should be addressed through education and support, not punishment.


Nowhere is this crisis more evident than in its disproportionate impact on black and brown students. They are subjected to these punitive measures at alarming rates compared to their white counterparts. The statistics from the Department of Education paint a harrowing picture of this racial injustice: Black students are three times more likely to be suspended than white students, and they make up a disproportionate percentage of those arrested in schools.


So, why does this matter? The implications are far-reaching and devastating. When black and brown students are pushed out of school and into the criminal justice system, they’re faced with a future haunted by obstacles. Their chances of graduating plummet, and their exposure to the criminal justice system increases, making them more likely to end up in prison. This pipeline perpetuates a cycle of disadvantage and discrimination that has far-reaching consequences for individuals and entire communities.


To address this crisis, we must first recognize that the problem lies within the school system itself. It's not about "bad kids" but rather about bad policies. Zero-tolerance policies, which have been used to mandate harsh punishments for minor infractions, are a major contributor to the pipeline. These policies must be reevaluated and replaced with more restorative approaches that prioritize rehabilitation and support for students.


Playground at LeFrak Hall on Sept.25, 2023 (John Valencia)


Restorative justice programs offer a viable alternative to punitive measures. These programs focus on repairing harm, fostering empathy, and helping students learn from their mistakes. Rather than pushing students out of school, they aim to keep them engaged in the learning process while holding them accountable for their actions. The Institutional AntiRacism and Accountability Project found that restorative practices in 17 schools in Denver led to a 68% decrease in police tickets and an 82% decrease in expulsions. When implemented effectively, restorative justice can create a more inclusive and equitable learning environment.


In addition to restorative justice approaches, it is essential that we invest in mental health services and counseling in schools. Many students who act out are often grappling with unresolved trauma, poverty, or emotional issues. Instead of punishing them, we should provide the resources and support they need to address these underlying problems. By doing so, the cycle of disruptive behavior can be broken, and more students will succeed academically.


The implicit bias that plagues our education system must be addressed as well. Teachers and administrators must undergo training to recognize and combat their own biases. This is crucial in ensuring that disciplinary decisions are fair and not influenced by racial prejudices.

The School-to-Prison Pipeline is a stain on our education system, and its impact on black and brown students is nothing short of an injustice. It is high time we dismantle this pipeline and replace it with a more compassionate and equitable approach to discipline. By adopting restorative justice practices, investing in mental health services, and confronting implicit bias, we can create a school system that empowers all students to succeed, regardless of their race or background. It's a moral imperative and a step toward a more just and equitable society.



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