September 29, 2022


Who is Most Affected by the School to Prison Pipeline?

The article written by American University expands on how dangerous the school to prison pipeline is for students of color. A big part of this would be the Zero Tolerance Policy and that it in fact stems from the war on drugs. It dramatically increases the number of students suspended and expelled from schools furthering the gap between the students and their schools. Students of color are disproportionately treated in comparison to white students. Most of these students are treated wrongfully based on their home and community backgrounds which is almost impossible for them to escape forcing them into the prison system. The new approach to replace Zero Tolerance Policies would be Restorative Justice. This would allow new disciplinary practices and monitoring of racial disparities. Large focus on agreement and meditation rather than punishment. Finally, professional development and training.

School-to-Prison Pipeline: The Labeling Theory, Socialization

The Labeling Theory states that individuals “behave in ways that reflect how others label them” (Crossman). For example,  if students are labeled as “deviants,” they often feel stigmatized and are more likely to act out. Labels that cause the most harm often come from groups of power given to subordinate groups. Escaping these labels can be difficult, and with the implementation of “zero-tolerance” policies, students who have been given these labels by their school are significantly less likely to graduate (St. George).

“Socialization is the process by which a person learns to be a member of a group, community, or society,” (Cole). Factors such as economic background, gender, race, affect student social interactions. School is an important environment for kids to grow and improve socialization, but kids who are suspended or expelled are not getting exposure they need to improve these skills.

I believe that the approach most schools take in regards to discipline causes more harm than good. With punishments such as expulsion, suspension, and referral to juvenile courts, schools perpetuate the school-to-prison pipeline pushing marginalized groups out of school and into the criminal system. The Labeling Theory explains the psychological aspects of this phenomena and by stunting student socialization, students feel ostracized by their peers. These feelings make school a hostile environment and have negative impacts on individual education. I believe schools should take a restorative justice approach to discipline by removing zero-tolerance policies and focusing on fostering student growth in social aspects.


School-to-Prison Pipeline: Inequality in Education

According to the ACLU, the school-to-prison pipeline is “a national trend wherein children are funneled out of public schools and into juvenile and criminal justice systems,” (ACLU). Because of school concerns with crime, they have begun to outsource discipline to juvenile courts and in-school officers as well as implementing “zero-tolerance policies.” However, these efforts to control crime have increased suspension and juvenile offense rates and increased education inequalities.

Students with disabilities, those who live below the poverty line, members of the LGBTQ community, students of color, and other minorities are especially vulnerable to this trend. In a 2014 report by the U.S. Department of Education for Civil Rights, they found that students of color are three times more likely to be suspended compared to their white peers, and students with disabilities are twice as likely. A majority of offenses are nonviolent, but include “‘insubordination’ or ‘willful defiance,’ which can just mean a student has challenged the authority of a teacher or school administrator” (Justice Policy Institute). These offenses should not be reason to suspend a student from school. Suspension causes students to fall behind, and a Texas study found that students who have been suspended are more likely to drop out. In addition, these students are also three times more likely to enter the juvenile justice system the following year (ACLU).

Because of this disturbing trend, schools should adopt restorative justice programs and get rid of “zero-tolerance” policies that target minority students. These policies disrupt student education and create an environment where vulnerable students are “pushed out” of school and into the juvenile system. This perpetuates the cycle of inequality in our education systems. By focusing on restorative justice, schools are able to take a more understanding approach to discipline and better foster student growth.

School to Prison Pipeline

The focal point I choose from the book Black and White by Paul Volponi is the school to prison pipeline. The school to prison pipeline is a metaphor for the zero tolerance policy schools have implemented into their system. The result to this policy is more kids of color are getting in legal trouble, which in turn pushes them towards imprisonment. From Wikipedia “The disciplinary policies and practices that create an environment for the United States school-to-prison link to occur disproportionately affect Latino and Black students which is later reflected in the rates of incarceration. Between 1999 and 2007, the percentage of black students being suspended has increased by twelve percent, while the percentage of white students being suspended has declined since the implementation of zero tolerance policies”(Wikipedia 2017). This shows how the system is flawed and how it’s creating a bias between different races.

In the book Black and White by Paul Volponi 2 characters to bring up this topic, X and Marcus’s mom. He likes to mock Eddie for the crime he has committed and how he won’t be punished as harsh as his best friend marcus just because he’s white. X says “‘The only thing in your favor is the dude who got shot is black. Maybe the judge won’t give a damn, unless the judge is black, too’”(X 78). X brings up this point because it is known that Blacks get harsher sentences just because of their skin tone and that hopefully it won’t be as harsh because it is a Black on Black crime. X also brings up “Eddie might be at the DA’s office working out a deal for himself”(111). This idea X brings up is trying to show how there’s a bias for White people and they have it easier.

The dynamic in this text seems to be true in our community. Based off this New York Times article by The Editorial Board “Decades of research have shown that the criminal courts sentence black defendants more harshly than whites… African-American defendants get more time behind bars — sometimes twice the prison terms of whites with identical criminal histories — when they commit the same crimes under identical circumstances. It also shows how bias on the part of individual judges and prosecutors drives sentencing inequity”(The Editorial Board 2016). They give statistics from Florida that shows Blacks got 178 more days behind bars for robbery and that Blacks in 60 percent of felony cases, 68 percent of serious, first-degree crimes and 45 percent of burglaries, and in third-degree felony cases 20 percent more prison time than white defendants. These statistics portray the bias of race in our court systems and how our system needs to be altered in such a way that gives more equality.

Board, The Editorial. “Unequal Sentences for Blacks and Whites.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 17 Dec. 2016,


“School-to-Prison Pipeline.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 16 Oct. 2017,


Paul Volponi. Black and White. Penguin Group, 2005, 345 Hudson street, New York, New York 10014, USA