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Excerpted From: John A.D. Marinelli, “Education under Armed Guard”: An Analysis of the School-to-Prison Pipeline in Washington, D.C., 59 American Criminal Law Review 1697 (Fall, 2022) (195 Footnotes) (Full Document)

JohnMarinelliNationwide, America's middle and high school students face the threat of arrest and incarceration as a consequence of their conduct at school. Around the country, kids have been handcuffed and criminally prosecuted for things like feigned burping, leaving class without permission, and getting off a bus too early. Termed the “school-to-prison pipeline,” this phenomenon has drawn increasing attention and advocacy in recent years.

The school-to-prison pipeline remains alive and well in the nation's capital, Washington, D.C. A substantial majority of the city's public-school students face police in their schools, and many are referred to law enforcement for classroom misconduct. More still face the prospect of suspension and expulsion, and these punishments substantially increase students' likelihood of later interaction with the criminal justice system. And while Black students comprise less than two-thirds of the city's public-school population, they experience nearly all school-related arrests. District policymakers have made some strides toward combatting the school-to-prison pipeline. But further commitment remains necessary to ensure that, as students continue to return to in-person learning, they do not face criminal consequences at school.

To that end, this Note incorporates original research to analyze the school-to-prison pipeline in Washington, D.C., focusing in particular on 2018-19--the last full year of in-person instruction before the COVID-19 pandemic necessitated a shift to online learning. Part I of this Note describes the origins of the school-to-prison pipeline and identifies practices that contribute to the nationwide phenomenon. That Part also shows how these practices disproportionately affect Black students and negatively impact children around the country. Part II analyzes the degree to which these contributing practices existed in Washington, D.C. during the 2018-19 school year. Finally, Part III proposes reforms that can reduce the rates at which Washington, D.C. students face criminal consequences for classroom misbehavior as they resume in-person learning.

[. . .]

The school-to-prison pipeline funnels too many students from the classroom into the criminal justice system. School policing, the criminalization of student conduct, and exclusionary discipline all contribute to this phenomenon. In 2018- 19--the last full term before the COVID-19 pandemic necessitated a shift to online learning--each of these practices existed to some degree in Washington, D.C. Police patrolled schools attended by a majority of the city's students, several hundred students were referred to law enforcement, and more than 6% of students were suspended. But this need not be the case.

If local officials commit to the responsible elimination of school policing, limit the degree to which students face criminal consequences for school conduct, and further limit exclusionary punishments, they can reduce the degree to which school discipline leads to incarceration in Washington, D.C. Indeed, the city's policymakers have the opportunity to ensure that, as students continue to return to campus, they do not face the school-to-prison pipeline.

J.D. Georgetown University Law Center 2021.

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