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Defining and Redirecting a School-to-Prison Pipeline

NCJ Number
New Directions for Youth Development Volume: 2003 Issue: 99 Dated: Fall 2003 Pages: 9-15
Johanna Wald; Daniel F. Losen
Date Published
7 pages
This article discusses the disparities in the public school and criminal justice systems and the concept of the school-to-prison pipeline.
The public school system in this country is plagued by vast inequalities that are frequently defined along lines of race and class, and recent policy trends appear to be intensifying these inequalities. Students in high-poverty, high-minority schools are routinely provided fewer resources, qualified teachers, and advanced-level courses than their more affluent White peers, which can lead to lower rates of high school graduation, lower levels of academic achievement, and higher rates of college attrition. A related trend is also seen in school discipline and the criminal justice system, with minority youth being overly represented and subjected to more severe sanctions. The racial disparities within the two systems are so similar that educators, advocates, and observers have begun describing these dual trends as the prison track or the school-to-prison pipeline. Despite the strong relationship between troubled educational histories and subsequent arrest and incarceration, the specific ways in which schools may either contribute to or prevent the flow of students into the criminal justice system remains largely unexplored. In May 2003, the Civil Rights Project at Harvard University and the Institute on Race and Justice at Northeastern University sponsored a conference on the concept of the school-to-prison pipeline. The major findings from these studies include: the failure to provide appropriate behavioral interventions may be contributing to delinquency among students with disabilities; following removal from school, many students experience enormous difficulty in reentering school; and effective interventions and programs that reduce risk and enhance protective factors for youth at risk for delinquency exist. These studies clearly suggest that the school-to-prison pipeline is preventable, but harnessing the political will to do so is difficult. Notes