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Warning: Public Schools Are Working Quickly to Send Black Children to Jail

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School to prison pipeline affects Black students more than any other race.


Reported by April V. Taylor

The school to prison pipeline is a widely discussed phenomenon, but few people take a deeper look into the paradigm to understand the root causes.  By definition, the school to prison pipeline is a national trend where more and more children are being funneled out of public schools and into the juvenile and criminal justice systems.  Students of color and those with a history of abuse, neglect, poverty, or learning disabilities are disproportionately targeted for suspension, expulsion, and/or arrest for minor offenses.  Many zero-tolerance policies contribute to these types of punishments being implemented for behavior that in the past would have only warranted a trip to the principal’s office and wind up criminalizing students.  Zero-tolerance policies criminalize behaviors as simple as bringing a pair of nail clippers or scissors to school and have increased suspension rates from 1.7 million in 1974 to 3.1 million in 2000.

NewsOne recently reported on the high number of black boys who, as early as preschool, are suspended for minor infractions.  As Madison Gray states, these suspensions and other punishments “begin the process of funneling them in to a prison system that awaits them and whose talons will forever carve social scars in to their backs, like the welts of so many slavemaster’s whips.”  The U.S. Department of Education reports that 7,500 have been suspended from public preschools with Black children being three times more likely to be suspended than white children.

Statistics published by the ACLU show that despite blacks comprising only 16 percent of the student population in public schools, they account for 42 percent of the suspensions.  This means that black students are three times more likely to be suspended or expelled from school.  In addition, statistics show that black students also account for 31 percent of school-related arrests.

The effects of over criminalization in the classroom are damaging and unfair.  A statistic that illustrates the impact of these policies is that students who are suspended or expelled for a discretionary violation are almost three times more likely to wind up in the clutches of the juvenile justice system in the year following the violation.  The vast majority of these children never escape the long reach of the criminal justice system and many never graduate from high school.  Not graduating from high school is a major risk factor as 68 percent of all men in state and federal prison do not have a high school diploma.

Requiring schools to take a closer look at these statistics is a must.  Teachers and administrators need to be encouraged to emphasize best practices rather than criminalizing behavior or actions that can be changed through more appropriate means of discipline.  America’s children deserve an educational system that does not force so many of its most vulnerable and marginalized citizens to live their lives under the control of the criminal justice system.