Is the School to Prison Pipeline Real?

By Kayla Blake

According to the American University’s School of Education, the School-to-Prison Pipeline (SPP) refers to the “practices and policies that disproportionately place students of color into the criminal justice system” (2021). It is known for placing black and brown kids, especially boys, in jails and juvenile detention centers more than their white counterparts. The real question is how valid is the phenomenon of the SPP and whether there is any evidence to support it.

The SPP is just a reflection of the racial inequity that runs deep within the fabric of our society. There is plenty of statistical evidence that proves the education system is set up to fail people of color. Many students (especially students of color) just have a need for additional resources or extra attention that teachers and school districts usually can’t give them. Instead of receiving sympathy, they often are punished, discouraged, and/or forced out of the learning environment. This leads to their focus straying from their education. For example, black students are expelled 3x more than white students (ACLU).

Higher education is proven to reduce illegal and criminal activity. Many students who are treated like criminals in the classroom are more likely to be criminals in the future. In fact, an analysis done by Education Next shows that students attending schools with higher suspension rates are significantly more likely to land in a jail cell as an adult. In fact, “Black students represent 31% of school-related arrests,” says the ACLU.

In addition to this, most teachers, regardless of race, tend to have an unconscious bias against black students and tend to watch them under a microscope more than their non-black classmates. In a Yale study conducted in 2016, teachers were assigned to observe students in a video. They were given the task of keeping an eye out for “challenging behavior.” Teachers of all backgrounds tended to watch the black (mostly male) students in the video harder than the other ones. It’s almost like they are anticipating that the black students are going to misbehave—even though they know nothing about them.

Lastly, there are a lot more stats found by organizations that validate the SPP. The Department of Justice verified that almost 3% of black male U.S. residents of all ages have been imprisoned, compared to 0.5% of white males (2014). The Schott Foundation for Public Education discovered that 59% of black men graduate high school compared to 80% of white men. This is a huge and undeniable gap (2015). And coinciding with the statistic about black students representing 31% of school-related arrests, 37% of imprisoned men were black despite making up around 13% of the population (Kids Count Data Center).

All in all, this proves that there is an inequity in our system, and we need more people to step up to create better learning environments for all students.