The United States currently has the highest incarceration rate in the world. Over 2. 4 million persons are in state or federal prisons and jails—a rate of 751 out of every 100,000. Over 3,500 of these are awaiting execution; some for Federal crimes, most for capital offenses in one of the 36 states that still allows for capital punishment. Another 5 million are under some sort of correctional supervision such as probation or parole (PEW 2008). Even more alarming is a phenomenon known as the Pipeline to Prison, or the School to Prison Pipeline.
In her dissertation, Robinson (2013) explains that the school to prison pipeline is a phrase used to describe the phenomenon where youth, and disproportionately African American males, are pushed out of public school systems into criminal justice systems (Robinson 2013). This pattern has become so pronounced that scholars, child advocates, and community activists now refer to it as —the school to prison pipeline, the schoolhouse to jailhouse track, or as younger and younger students are targeted, the cradle to prison track (Wald and Losen 2003; NAACP 2005; Advancement Project 2010; Children’s Defense Fund 2007).
The promise of free and compulsory public education in the United States is a promise of equal opportunity and access to the “American Dream” (Heitzeg, 2009). Despite some fleeting hope in the early years of the post-Civil Rights eras, the promise remains elusive for many. Indeed, shifts in educational policy in the past 15 years have exacerbated the inherent inequities in public education. Rather than creating an atmosphere of learning, engagement and opportunity, current educational practices have increasingly blurred the distinction between school and jail.
The school to prison pipeline refers to this growing pattern of tracking students out of educational institutions, primarily via zero tolerance policies, and tracking them directly and/or indirectly into the juvenile and adult criminal justice systems. While schools have long been characterized by both formal and informal tracks that route students into various areas of the curriculum, tracking students out of school and into jail is a phenomenon of its own. Current policies have increased the risk of students being suspended, expelled, and/or arrested at school (Robinson 2013).
This review focuses on the research that describes and analyzes the path from school discipline to the juvenile justice system known as the “school to prison pipeline. ” The review includes an overview of school discipline, zero tolerance policies in action, and changes within the juvenile court system that have ultimately led to an increase of students that are lost in the system. School discipline Educators have been concerned with school discipline since the establishment of common schools (Tyack, 1978).
Historically, educators resorted to corporal punishment, contacting parents, detentions, suspensions, and expulsions to manage st behavior (Rousmaniere & Dehli,n/d; Martin & Nuzzi, 2004; Irby, 2009). As corporal punishment fell out of favor in the 1960’s, schools began to more frequently utilize detentions, suspensions, and expulsions (Skiba et al, 2000). Even though suspension and expulsions were not new forms of discipline they were implemented differently as school disciplinary practices began to shift (Dunbar & Villarruel, 2004).
According to Rousmaniere & Dehli (n/d), emerging approaches to control behavior resulted in the establishment of norms of good behavior. Once norms for good behavior were established discipline would reinforce them. In short, as discipline reinforced norms for good behavior, it essentially became a mechanism for controlling school culture. By “culturally changing the apparatus of rules, technologies, and practices” (Rousmaniere & Dehli, p. 7) schools ultimately changed school discipline to the extent that the changes become embedded in the social curriculum (Skiba & Peterson, 2003). The work of establishing “norms” is infused with power; especially as “bad” non-compliant behaviors, even if unrelated to teaching effectiveness, are punished. In Lewis’s (2006) study at three elementary schools she illuminates how a young African American student was disciplined for his excitement for getting the correct answer to a question. His “raising the roof” motion was considered outside the norm of appropriate “good” behavior.
Punishing is the selfaffirming exercise for the entity carrying out punishment. It defines criminality and punishing and the process legitimizes itself. At the same time it alters those who end up defined and subsequently treated as criminals (Robinson, 2013). Foucault (1977) suggests there is power in punishing; for this reason the shift in school discipline from school professionals handling student behaviors to law enforcement and juvenile justice courts handling student behaviors has important implications.
Acknowledging this shift is critical because this study is concerned with understanding the formation of a school to prison pipeline, the cultural politics of power embedded within it, and the consequences of its routine functioning (Robinson 2013). Zero Tolerance Risk of entry into the school to prison pipeline is not random. The School to Prison Pipeline disproportionately impacts the poor, students with disabilities, and youth of color, especially African Americans, who are suspended and expelled at the highest rates, despite comparable rates of infraction (Witt 2007).
Youth of color in particular are at increased risk for being pushed out of schools, pushed out into the streets, into the juvenile justice system, and/or into adult prisons and jails. In part, the school to prison pipeline is a consequence of schools which criminalize minor disciplinary infractions via zero tolerance policies, have a police presence at the school, and rely on suspensions and expulsions for minor infractions. What were once disciplinary issues for school administrators are now called crimes, and students are either arrested directly at school or their infractions are reported to the police.
Students are criminalized via the juvenile and/or adult criminal justice systems. The risk of later incarceration for students who are suspended or expelled and un-arrested is also great. For many, going to school has become literally and figuratively synonymous with going to jail. The school to prison pipeline is most immediately related to zero tolerance policies and to failing schools that are over-crowded, inadequately resourced and highly segregated, but it is also the result of larger social and political trends.
The school to prison pipeline is consistent with media driven fears of crime and “super-predators”, an increasingly harsh legal system for both juveniles and adults, and the rise of the prison industrial complex (Heitzeg 2009). Annual figures of school shootings and other severe crimes have remained consistent since 1985 (Reyonolds & Skiba, 2008); however, following several horrific school shootings fear about school crime has increased and provided a commonsense base of support for the use of harsh school disciplinary practices.
Amidst the notion of violent schools, zero tolerance policies were initially considered a fair and appropriate approach to ensuring school safety. Its history is embedded in the military’s zero tolerance drug codes of the 1980’s, drug sentencing policies, and the Gun Free School Act of 1994. The 1994 Gun Free School Act had a significant influence in the creation of zero tolerance policies. The policy mandated one year expulsion and referral to juvenile court for any student in possession of a firearm on school grounds or within 1000 feet of school property (Bailey & Ross, 2001; Tobin, 2001).
In 1997, the law was extended to include the same sanction for drug and drug paraphernalia possession on school property (Irby, 2009; Casella, 2003). This legislation sped up many school district shifts to zero tolerance disciplinary approaches because funding was attached to state’s implementation of polices regarding weapons on school property (Irby, 2009; Ashford, 2000). Further, the relationship between schools and law enforcement was federally sanctioned because of the Guns Free Act (Reyes, 2006).
Similar to drug sentencing policies, zero tolerance policies nclude pre-established sanctions. The zero tolerance policies ushered into schools followed the same philosophies the criminal justice system utilized in drug sentencing, but now applied them to students (Irby, 2009; Bromberg & Cohen, 2003) They also produced similarly racially disparate results. Whereas drug related zero tolerance policies for adults led to the mass incarceration of African American males for primarily nonviolent offenses (Mauer, 2009; Irby, 2009; Alexander, 2010). Similar practices in schools led to disproportionate numbers of African American males disciplined in school.
Proponents of these policies agreed with the rhetoric of safe streets and safer schools even as the data suggested that the policies did not increase school safety (Kupchik, 2010;McGrew, 2008). In 1989, zero tolerance policies were implemented in California, New York, and Louisville (Verdugo, 2002). New York was the first state to apply zero tolerance to any disruptive behavior (Skiba & Peterson, 1999). The creation of zero tolerance policies can also be understood through the lens of rare and random societal events. In the 1990’s there were approximately twenty school shootings (U. S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2007); these shooting ignited the rhetoric of school violence. Commentators began to refer to a school violence epidemic.
For example after Columbine the ABC network aired 383 stories regarding the tragedy, news anchor Sam Donaldson cautioned parents about angry teens showing up in our towns (Stossel, 2007). Bob McNamara of the CBS network called school shootings an American nightmare that too many schools know too well (Stossel, 2007). The threat of school violence fueled increased funding (Heck, 2004) and the utilization of unproven yet emotionally satisfying zero tolerance practices.
New practices included police departments on school campuses, student identification cards, metal detectors, cameras, elevated data collection of student performance and behavior as student surveillance methods (Hess & Leal, 2003; Lewis, 2003; Noguera, 1995). The political argument for zero tolerance policies was that they provide a safer school environment. Alongside increased surveillance policies, many states mandated referrals to disciplinary alternative education programs for students with severe criminal behaviors at school (such as fighting or possession of drugs and/or weapons).
Those who are accused of minor violations such as talking back to a teacher, profanity, or disrupting class are now subject to severe punishment. Discretionary disciplinary referrals account for the majority of the disciplinary referrals while state-mandated referrals for serious offenses constitute a small percentage of disciplinary referrals. It is the “discretion” that is expanding the school to prison pipeline and creating racial disparities. Discretionary referrals have expanded the criminalization of students and adding an implicit definition of criminality to now include backtalking, cursing, and even silliness.
IT can be argued that there is now a broad “prison track” in schools just as there is a collegeprep track (Robinson 2013). A complex set of findings have emerged from the zero tolerance literature. In recent years the most prominent is the ineffectiveness of zero tolerance and the devastating impact on African American males. According to the American Psychological Association’s Zero Tolerance Task Force, zero tolerance practices of suspensions, expulsions, and referrals to law enforcement have not made schools safer.
Instead, these practices have increased students probability of dropping out of school and of their involvement in the juvenile justice system. In a study utilizing survey data and structural equation modeling (Mayer & Leone, 1999), suggest that the increased use of surveillance has done little to impact the factors that influence school violence and disruption. Further, Chen (2008) in a study of 712 high schools found that after controlling for community crime rates and school characteristics, schools with harsh discipline policies had increased discipline referrals and crime rates.
Nationally, the increased utilizations of suspensions and expulsions have not been linked to severe criminal behaviors at school. Rather, the sanctions have been linked to minor infractions (Justice Center, 2011; Texas Appleseed, 2007 & 2009). Moreover, the harsh disciplinary practices have led to a startling increase in suspensions from 1. 7 million in 1974 to 3. 3 million in 2006 (U. S. Department of Education, 2006). Over the past 15 years research on zero tolerance policies have suggested their ineffectiveness.
The literature is saturated with studies indicating an enormous amount of suspensions, expulsions and arrests due to non-violent disruptive behaviors (Kupchik, 2010, Mendez & Knoff, 2003, Toby, 2002; Winbinger et al, 2000). Proposed alternatives include restorative justice, decrease use of surveillance methods, and improved teacher training (Skiba et al, 2003; Strickland, 2004; Sheldon, 2004; Ayers, et al, 2001). Nonetheless, data and analysis from the literature has not swayed policymakers or the public away from demonstratively ineffective approaches to healthy, safe, orderly schools where children have an equal opportunity to learn.
The Gun-Free Schools Act of 1994 (GFSA) provided the initial impetus for zero tolerance policies. The GFSA mandates that all schools that receive federal funding must (1) have policies to expel for a calendar year any student who brings a firearm to school or to school zone, Forum on Public Policy 9 and (2) report that student to local law enforcement, thereby blurring any distinction between disciplinary infractions at school and the law. Subsequent amendments to The GFSA and changes in many state laws and local school district regulations broadened the GFSA focus on firearms to apply to many other kinds of weapons. Skiba 2001; Birkland and Lawrence 2009).
Most schools have adopted zero-tolerance policies for a variety of behavioral issueslargely directed towards weapons, alcohol/ drugs, threatening behavior, and fighting on school premises, and as the name implies, indicate zero-tolerance for any infractions. According to the Centers for Disease Control (2006), in most cases 100% of school districts had prohibitions against weapons, and fighting, nearly 80% had bans on gang-activity at school, and over 90% had implemented zero tolerance policies for alcohol, tobacco and other drugs.
In addition, a growing number of school districts also had an increased security presence at school. It has become routine for districts to assign staff/volunteers to monitor halls and bathrooms, equip staff with communication devices, use metal detectors and cameras, and have uniformed security guards or police present. It is less common, but also possible now for some schools to employ canine units, Tasers, and SWAT team raids for drug and weapons searches (Birkland and Lawrence 2009).
Ironically, enhanced security measures were largely inspired by the school shootings in largely white suburban schools, they have been most readily adopted and enforced in urban schools with low student-to teacher ratios, high percentages of students of color and lower test scores (Skiba 2001). Zero tolerance policies have generally involved harsh disciplinary consequences such as longterm and/or permanent suspension or expulsion for violations. and often arrest and referral to juvenile or adult court.
While the original intent of The GFSA was to require these punishments for serious violations involving weapons, they have frequently been applied to minor or non-violent violations of rules such as tardiness and disorderly conduct. According to the American Bar Association (2001), zero-tolerance policies do not distinguish between serious and non-serious offenses, nor do they adequately separate intentional troublemakers from those with behavioral disorders.
They cast a very wide net; students have been suspended and or expelled for nail clippers, Advil and mouthwash. Cases reported by The Justice Policy Institute (2009) and The Advancement Project (2010) outline incidents subject to zero-tolerance policy: • A seventeen-year-old junior shot a paper clip with a rubber band at a classmate, missed, and broke the skin of a cafeteria worker. The student was expelled from school. · A nine-year-old on the way to school found a manicure kit with a 1-inch knife.
The student was suspended for one day. In Ponchatoula Louisiana, a 12-year-old who had been diagnosed with a hyperactive disorder warned the kids in the lunch line not to eat all the potatoes, or “I’m going to get you. ” The student, turned in by the lunch monitor, was suspended for two days. He was then referred to police by the principal, and the police charged the boy with making “terroristic threats. ” He was incarcerated for two weeks while awaiting trial. • Two 10-year-old boys from Arlington, Virginia were suspended for three days for putting soapy water in a teacher’s drink.
At the teacher’s urging, Forum on Public Policy 10 police charged the boys with a felony that carried a maximum sentence of 20 years. The children were formally processed through the juvenile justice system before the case was dismissed months later. • In Denton County, Texas, a 13year-old was asked to write a “scary” Halloween story for a class assignment. When the child wrote a story that talked about shooting up a school, he both received a passing grade by his teacher and was referred to the school principal’s office.
The school officials called the police, and the child spent six days in jail before the courts confirmed that no crime had been committed. • In Palm Beach, Florida, a 14-year-old disabled student was referred to the principal’s office for allegedly stealing $2 from another student. The principal referred the child to the police, where he was charged with strong-armed robbery, and held for six weeks in an adult jail for this, his first arrest.
When the local media criticized the prosecutor’s decision to file adult felony charges, he responded, “depicting this forcible felony, this strong-arm robbery, in terms as though it were no more than a $2 shoplifting fosters and promotes violence in our schools. ” Charges were dropped by the prosecution when a 60 Minutes II crew showed up at the boy’s hearing. • A 5 year old boy in Queens NY was arrested, handcuffed and taken to a psychiatric hospital for having a tantrum and knocking papers off the principal’s desk.
In St Petersburg Florida, a 5 year old girl was handcuffed arrested and taken into custody for having a tantrum and disrupting a classroom. · An11 year old girl in Orlando Florida was tasered by a police officer, arrested and faces charges of battery on a security resource officer, disrupting a school function and resisting with violence. She had pushed another student. • Thurgood Marshall High School, in San Francisco, underscores the tensions between some communities and police. Two groups of students broke into a scuffle, with other students looking on.
School Resource Officers (SROs) broke up the fight and escorted the students to the office where they were to be picked up by their parents. When a family member of one of the students confronted some of the students, another small fight ensued and local police were called in to break up what a SRO termed a —riot. Nearly 60 police officers arrived at the scene, some in riot gear, while students were changing classes. Students alleged that the officers brandished their guns, used their batons, and hit, pushed and kicked students. Several students were injured and arrested.
Police contend that the students were confrontational. As the aforementioned examples indicate, zero tolerance policies are target students for minor infractions, increasingly focus on younger elementary and pre-school students, and often rely on force and arrest for relatively minor disciplinary issues. Zero tolerance policies have proliferated without evidence that they actually improve school safety and security (Skiba 2001). In theory, zero-tolerance policies are intended to have a deterrent effect for intentionally troublesome students and the mere presence of the policies is intended to thwart disruptive behavior. But, as with harsh penalties for juvenile and criminal justice, zero tolerance was adopted and expanded in lieu of data supporting either effectiveness or need. There is, however, mounting evidence that these policies do contribute to the school to prison pipeline.