The school to prison pipeline, and the school to prison link are two metaphors used for what has also been described as an epidemic. Students are having more contact with the adult and juvenile criminal system due to educational institutions implementing zero tolerance policies, and the recent practice of suspending, expelling or even arresting students for minor offenses. Statistics show that these practices and policies are disproportionately targeted at students of color, and students who have been abused, neglected, live in poverty, or have learning disabilities.
Students who are forced out of school for minor offenses fall behind in their studies, become stigmatized, and many actually drop out completely, going on ultimately to commit crimes.
Many believe the reason for the school to prison pipeline is because of the zero tolerance policies and practices implemented after the 1999 Columbine High School massacre. Others believe that educators are focused on students who score lower on the standardized testing as these students bring down the school's overall test scores. Others believe that the police are overzealous in their pursuit of the youth.
Student behavior does need to be managed and is an essential part of learning, however, using too many or too harsh punishments to modify student behavior can become both ineffective and harmful. Due to this realization, The National Education Association (NEA) made a commitment formally to put the school-to-prison system to an end in 2013. From that point onward, both members and leaders of NEA have conducted extensive research, and are raising awareness about this important issue by developing ways to get involved.
The policy statement approved by NEA Board of Directors are based on these guiding principles:
- Working to eliminate procedures and policies that carry a negative disproportionate impact on students with disabilities, LGBTQ students, and students of color.
- Being more focused on student's strengths instead of weaknesses by implementing restorative practices and other positive supports that appreciate healthy relationships with the school communities. Creating a nurturing and supportive school climate implies getting rid of high security measures such as security cameras, metal detectors, and windows with bars that makes school feel less like a learning environment.
- Professional Development and Training. NEA will provide training, time, and resources to assist all educators to create, recognize, and utilize more appropriate discipline techniques.
NEA is hoping to broaden its community work and team up with others to eradicate the school-to-prison pipeline while engaging with communities and building partnerships.
Restorative Justice Model
The restorative justice model began in the 1990's in Australia and is now used across the globe as an alternative to the zero tolerance policies. The model works by including students, making amends, bringing affected parties together, and helping reintegrate students back into the classroom. Educators in favor of this model have said that it turns school into a community for the students, where their voices are heard, their grievances are acknowledged and works to deal with the underlying issues a student may have.
- Fact Sheet: How Bad Is The School To Prison Pipeline?
- ACLU: School To Prison Pipeline
- CityLab: Staunching The School To Prison Pipeline
- America Divided: The Origins Of The School To Prison Pipeline
- Edutopia: Restorative Justice Resources For Schools
- Education Week Teacher: How To Practice Restorative Justice In Schools