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Excerpted from: Judith A.M. Scully,  Examining and Dismantling the School-to-prison Pipeline: Strategies for a Better Future, 68 Arkansas Law Review 959 (2016) (342 Footnotes) (Full Document Not Available)


JudithAMScullyThe school-to-prison pipeline is a devastating process through which many of our children -- particularly males and students of color -- receive an inadequate education and are then pushed out of public schools and into the criminal punishment system. Although this phenomenon harms children of all ages and races, it impacts children of color most heavily. Indeed, “African American students who violate school rules are more likely to face multi-day suspensions” and generally harsher punishment than White students who engage in the same kind of conduct. For instance, Black students were suspended more often than White students in every state in the nation in 2006-07.

The pipeline starts when school administrators and teachers push children out of the school system by placing them on out-of-school suspension, transferring them to alternative schools, expelling them, and/or having them arrested for minor offenses. Once out of the school system, children who are not in state custody are left to fend for themselves. Left unsupervised, children pushed out of the school system soon find trouble and are placed on the pathway to either detention or jail. For children who wind up in state custody, their lives generally spiral out of control as they face the revolving door of the criminal punishment system, often moving from juvenile detention into the adult criminal system. Research also indicates that a disproportionate number of African American students come into contact with the criminal and juvenile punishment systems as a result of the school-to-prison pipeline, although they pose no public safety risk.

Thirty-eight percent of the youth in this country are youths of color; yet, they represent nearly seventy percent of those who are confined. African American youth, in particular, account for thirty percent nationwide of all juvenile arrests after being stopped, even though they constitute only seventeen percent of the juvenile population. Moreover, “Once prosecuted, Black youth are nine times more likely than White youth to receive an adult prison sentence.” This article focuses on the impact of various school policies used to push children out of public school and analyzes strategies that have been implemented to address this problem.

Part II looks at how the school-to-prison pipeline has been constructed. It examines how the “get tough on crime” philosophy led to adult crime being punished severely, which opened the doorway for courts to also punish children severely. Following this trend, public schools instituted draconian discipline policies that mirrored the exclusionary policies of the criminal punishment system. Police officers were soon contracted to be housed in public schools to interrogate, search, arrest, and enforce rules against children in elementary, middle, and high schools throughout the nation. The final component of the pipeline was solidified as public school teachers began to feel the pressure of the No Child Left Behind Act, a law that required schools to have students perform at certain levels or face serious sanctions such as the loss of funding or the closing of the school entirely. With such serious consequences looming, teachers and administrators began to eliminate low-performing students by suspending them, transferring them to alternative programs, and/or expelling them. By eliminating these students, the schools protected their performance evaluations and made clear just how disposable some children are. As a consequence of these policies, students of color and children with learning disabilities found themselves disproportionately locked into the pipeline at alarming rates.

Part III of this article briefly discusses the psychological impact that criminalization and excessive discipline have on the minds and lives of students caught in the pipeline.

Part IV focuses on the various strategies used by governments and nonprofit organizations to dismantle the pipeline.

Part V concludes that, because the school-to-prison pipeline is a complex problem involving many different stakeholders, a wide variety of strategies including litigation, legislation, public education, and community empowerment must be used in order to ensure the pipeline's destruction. As one of the most important civil rights issues of the twenty-first century, dismantling the school-to-prison pipeline will require lawyers, students, legislators, policymakers, teachers, school administrators, parents, and concerned citizens to work together to not only legislate, litigate, and agitate, but also to relentlessly hold the system accountable so that all students receive a high school diploma rather than an invitation to a prison cell.