— (3)

What is the school-to-prison pipeline?

Many students in the United States are affected by what is known as the school-to-prison pipeline (SPP). The school-to-prison pipeline is defined as “the intersection of a K-12 educational system and a juvenile justice system” (4). In other words, students are pushed down the path of the criminal justice system due to strict school policies such as the zero tolerance policy. These policies allow schools to implement their own punishments, which in most cases are linked to the criminalization of their students rather than handling nonviolent offenses in schools as they did in the past (6). As a consequence, students are neglected, fall behind in school and are less likely to graduate.

Disproportionate Representation

Some minority demographics are at a higher risk for being involved in the SPP than others. These groups include but not limited to African Americans, children with disabilities, and those living in low-income communities (6). These groups are more likely to receive office referrals, suspensions, and expulsions than non-minority groups (7).


Students of color more likely to be pushed down this pipeline than white children. According to a study, black children are disproportionately represented in the SPP compared to white children (1). They are 3.5 times more likely to be suspended or expelled from school than their white counterparts (1). These punishments lead black children to the criminal justice system, more often than white children (6). These statistics are disturbing particularly because black children only make up 15% of the student population in the United States (6). 

accessibility-1682903_960_720 (1).jpg


Children with disabilities are also disproportionately represented in the judicial system compared to nondisabled individuals. Of all children in juvenile detention, 33% of them have learning disabilities (1). Of all juvenile inmates, 70% were diagnosed with learning disabilities and 33 percent were reading below a 4th-grade level (7). Further studies show that 21% of students diagnosed with an emotional impairment dropped out of school in the 2008–2009 school year (7). Additionally, about 56% of students with disabilities were arrested within 2 years of dropping out of school, compared to 19% of students with disabilities who graduated high school. 

Socioeconomic Status

Socioeconomic status (SES) has been found to be a risk factor for school suspension (7). The environment in which a child grows up in has an effect on their educational journey. Schools in neighborhoods with high poverty rates are more likely to include cameras, metal detectors, security guards, and school resource officers (6).  Children who are from poor families are times more likely to have behavioral, developmental, or social delays. A large percentage, 75%, of fourth and eigth grade students who are low-income cannot read at grade level compared to just 50% of higher income students (6).

There are many factors that contribute to the root cause of the SPP. These range from school discipline policies to school officers and the lack of resources in schools. Children who are not performing well in schools should be given supplemental education and have counseling services available for those in need. Instead, they are criminalized as such a young age and return to school unprepared and fall further behind their peers. For some, the journey down the pipeline is easily reached, however, the road to recovery can be difficult for many. Organizations are challenging the SPP and insisting that all children be given the opportunity to education.  


Homestead 1839


Cultivating community capacity through service learning and food security for sustainable, equitable outcomes. 


This farm and non-profit organization is making it a priority to create opportunities for at-risk youth through restitution, mentorship, and job skills training. Make sure to read about Homestead 1839 and also check out their Facebook page!



  1. Elias, M. (2016). The school-to-prison pipeline. Perspectives on Contemporary Issues, 298. Chicago

  2. Kim, C. Y., Losen, D. J., & Hewitt, D. T. (2010). The school-to-prison pipeline: Structuring legal reform. NYU Press. Chicago.

  3. McTerry, A. "Solutions for the School-to-prison Pipeline." The Washington Times. The Washington Times, 31 Jan. 2016. Web. 24 June 2017.

  4. Moody, M. (2016). From under-diagnoses to over-representation: Black children, ADHD, and the school-to-prison pipeline. Journal of African American Studies20(2), 152-163.

  5. Owens, E. G. (2017). Testing the School‐to‐Prison Pipeline. Journal of Policy Analysis and Management36(1), 11-37.

  6. Welch, K., & Payne, A. A. (2012). Exclusionary school punishment: The effect of racial threat on expulsion and suspension. Youth Violence and Juvenile Justice10(2), 155-171.

  7. Wright, J. P., Morgan, M. A., Coyne, M. A., Beaver, K. M., & Barnes, J. C. (2014). Prior problem behavior accounts for the racial gap in school suspensions. Journal of Criminal Justice42(3), 257-266.

  8. Thurlow, M. L., & Johnson, D. R. (2011). The high school dropout dilemma and special education students. University of California, Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara, CA.