One pipeline that ought to leak

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school-to-prison pipeline

Photo: Policing Chicago Public Schools
“School-to-prison pipeline,” by Rachel Marie-Crane Williams (2011).

Mary Kay
Seattle, Wash.

While many remember public school as a nurturing and supportive environment, not all share this experience. When teachers, administration, and lawmakers fail, society’s most vulnerable children are left to face devastating consequences. The school-to-prison pipeline is an unjust cycle that pushes children out of the classroom, and it must be stopped.

What is the school-to-prison pipeline?

The school-to-prison pipeline (STPP) is a phenomenon in which children in the United States are funneled from public schools into the juvenile justice system. Overly strict and unjust policies along with increased police presence in schools have been linked to an increase in suspensions, expulsions, and even arrests. In turn, suspensions and expulsions lead to an increased risk of students dropping out of school and serving time in juvenile detention centers and, as adults, in prisons.

Who’s affected?

The STPP damages the lives of many children, however, certain groups are more affected than others. Students of color are more likely to be suspended and expelled than their white peers. In fact, data show that black students are three times as likely to be suspended, even for the same behaviors, and students with cognitive disabilities are twice as likely as their peers to be suspended.

The cost of the STPP is extraordinary—for everyone. Not only do children endure psychological damage from their mistreatment, but even uninvolved citizens pay as well. Tax dollars are used to imprison youth instead of funding preventive resources, such as school counselors, early on and at a fraction of the cost. Society as a whole loses as well when we allow children to suffer and refuse them a fair opportunity to unlock their potential.

Derailing the school-to-prison pipeline

Whether you are an educator, parent, or community member, you have a role to play in derailing the STPP. As responsible citizens, it is important to stay informed, vote for trustworthy law and policy makers, and advocate for youth. Speaking with your child’s teacher and local school district are great places to start, but it can be confusing to know what you need to advocate for. Below is a list of actions and strategies for ending the STPP that are backed by statistical evidence.

1. Fund schools from the beginning. Make sure tax dollars are being spent wisely and proactively to create positive climates on school campuses.

2. Arm educators with training on anti-bias teaching practices. Implicit bias can often be the first step in sending a child into the STPP.

3. Rid schools of zero-tolerance policies. These harsh, one-size policies do not fit all.

4. Review the student code of conduct and make informed changes to disciplinary structures. Positive reinforcement has been proven effective, while negative reinforcement often does more harm than good.

5. Fight against harmful state and federal laws. For example, No Child Left Behind has caused schools to actively push out low-performing students in order to improve school or district average test scores.

6. End suspensions and expulsions for nonviolent behaviors, such as being “disruptive.”

7. End incarceration for nonviolent offenses, such as truancy. The Washington State attendance law (the “Becca Bill”) allows students to be placed in a juvenile detention center for up to seven days if they have 10 or more unexcused absences in a year, and majorly contributes to making Washington No. 1 in the U.S. for incarcerating non-violent youths.

8. Remove unnecessary police presence from schools.

9. Stop pushing students into alternative schools, where their needs are continually ignored.

10. Focus on restorative justice and support students transitioning back into school after incarceration.

If the STPP continues, more and more children will be lost. Let’s work together to make public schools a welcoming, productive environment!

Further Reading:

“Strategies, Tools for Educators to Dismantle School-to-Prison Pipeline,” by Jason P. Nance. Juvenile Justice Information Exchange:

“American Kids & the School-to-Prison Pipeline,” Al Jazeera:

“The School-to-Prison Pipeline,” by Marilyn Elias:

“School-to-Prison Pipeline,” ACLU:

“Washington No.1 for jailing noncriminal kids, spurred by law named for Tacoma runaway,” by Melissa Santos. The News Tribune:


The opinions expressed by opinion writers featured in “On the Edge” are not necessarily those of The Norwegian American, and our publication of those views is not an endorsement of them. Comments, suggestions, and complaints about the opinions expressed by the paper’s editorials should be directed to the editor.

This article originally appeared in the October 5, 2018, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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The Norwegian American is North America's oldest and only Norwegian newspaper, published since May 17, 1889.