School in short is the place we go to to learn. In preschool, we learn how to spell our names, count, and differentiate between shapes and colors. In elementary School we gain exposure to the basics of fundamental curriculum like english, mathematics, science, and social studies. In middle school, we learn advanced forms of these skills and how to apply them to real world situations. In high school, we start to prepare for the adult world by using what we’ve learned throughout all of our schooling experience to make an informed decision on what we want to do next. These formative years are mainly what shapes our teens into future doctors, lawyers and engineers. Throughout these years, they receive support of all kinds that build you up to go into the world and excel to your full potential. Now, imagine there was a system in place to target a specific set of kids. At every chance it got it broke these students down. Made them believe they were lesser than. This system made sure that by the time they were done attacking these impressionable youths at every corner, they didn’t have the same shot as others to thrive beyond the life they currently have. But there is no imagining this. This system is real. It is known to many as the School to Prison Pipeline and as a form of systemic oppression that targets black youths at disproportionate rates, it works its absolute hardest to stop these kids from growing, thriving and having a dream. This “pipeline” has become far more than a small plothole in our educational institutions and more so a racially charged and oppressive system.
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The School to Prison Pipeline is exactly what it sounds like. It is the process of criminalizing black and brown students, by enforcing disciplinary policies in schools that keep them in closer contact with law enforcement and increase the chance of them ending up in prison. When they come into contact with law enforcement, this creates a gap between their educational institution and pushes them more into the criminal justice system. We see it every day within schools that are predominantly filled with black and brown students. Scanners, school safety agents, random locker searches, zero tolerance policies, heavy police presence in the school, and high suspension rates for an excessive amount of days. This formatting sounds familiar because it is used in prisons. Yet it’s also being enforced in schools? With innocent students?
The image above showcases this system perfectly. In the beginning, kids are born into the world untainted. Their race and socioeconomic status can then lead to a domino effect of the rest. Let’s say you send a lower middle class student to an underfunded school. They then aren’t receiving the same quality education, afterschool programs, mental health supports and nurses as someone in a well funded school. Zero tolerance policies over minor to major infractions “prevent escalation”. This also allows for the school to push out low performing students instead of putting in effort to cater to their individualized needs. Police departments can also get involved depending on how extreme the situation is. If a child is suspended they aren’t receiving instruction time and there isn’t often alternative school work given. They can then end up not going back to school and for some that means idle freetime outside which lots of police take advantage of and arrest these students. When you police students to such a heavy degree you push them into the prisoner mindset. They’re now convinced that their race is the problem and that their skin is deserving of the scanners, policing, and school safety agents.
Once they continue to give these students the same mental conditioning to think the way police and school officials do, their motivation to go to school decreases as does their likelihood to graduate. For some kids that means leaving school permanently, for others failing classes. A lot are at the point of believing this is what their life is supposed to be and all they will amount to, which law enforcement looks for. Kids to catch in criminal acts or at least lead them in that direction. There’s a reason why black people are incarcerated at the highest amounts. With racism rampant in police departments across the country, it is easy to arrest and throw away a young black teen. Who is going to look for them after you feed into problematic stereotypes and label that child a criminal? “Researchers seeking to understand how much of the race gap in student discipline may be attributable to discrimination face a more complex version of this challenge. One key missing variable is actual student behavior: researchers observe only the infraction as recorded by school personnel, who could exhibit bias in how they map behavior to infractions even if not in how infractions map to punishment.
Further complicating matters, the school environment itself influences behavior. So even if researchers with access to exceptionally rich data were to conclude that gaps in discipline were fully explained by gaps in behavior rather than simply recorded infractions, they would not necessarily be able to rule out discrimination causing those gaps in behavior in the first place.” This quote explains one of the main factors that furthers the school to prison pipeline: racism and implicit biases. People often judge how to handle these situations because of race. Why else would black students have higher suspension rates when compared to their white counterparts and schools with more black students have more school safety agents (put there to supplement the place of the police department). In their minds black students need to be more policed. After years of putting in place practices to police black students we see the rates it impacts them. “Black high school students are still twice as likely (12.8 percent) to be suspended as white (6.1 percent) or Hispanic (6.3 percent) high school students.” It has become a pattern. Intentional targeting of black students. We see this for example in the policing of dress codes. Black students are the ones with braids,bonnets, hair scarfs, and combs. Then when you look at certain schools you’ll see there are specific rules put in place that bans all of those things. It is a covert way of attacking black students without explicitly letting racism show. By policing them like this at every turn aren’t you prepping them for prison? For the lifestyle you believe they should live?
This issue has unfortunately been a longstanding one.There is a vast history when it comes to policing black and brown schools. We first saw terms like zero tolerance policies when president ronald reagan introduced his war on drugs initiative. Schools adopted these policies within their schools to decrease the drug use and possession on school grounds and when they saw the effectiveness of these policies they extended it to all behavior a school didn’t want to deal with. They didn’t like hat wearing? Made it grounds for suspension. Had sexist ideas about girls clothing? Made dress code violations a suspendable offense. Issues one might deem trivial were decidedly worthy of harsh punishment as a “preventative measure”. People quickly began to realize that these policies targeted black youths. “Using survey data from the National Center for Educational Statistics, it is estimated that the percentage of African American high school students that were suspended rose from 37% in 1999 to 49% in 2003 as compared to Caucasian students at 18.2% in 1999 to 17.7 % in 2007 (Hoffman, 2012)”. Many argue that there is no race relation but numbers don’t lie. A 12 percent increase can mean millions. Millions of black students getting suspended means millions missing instruction time which can mean a lot to their chances at graduation. With the new york state graduation rate being 90% for white students and 75.3% for black students, according to the state education department, black students are being failed. Where is their support to bridge this gap? Where are the supports to give them alternative educational opportunities? There aren’t any because it is easier to ignore the problem than acknowledge the faults within our system. Then of course any racist policy makers in charge have the power to stop there from being supports put in place to aid these students. We’re far past the point of needing only equality. We now need equity. The gap for black students is so wide they’re owed the extra push to get them that same 90% graduation rate. But how do we fix such a broken system?
The answer to fixing our system is restorative justice and less policing in schools. Kids are bound to make mistakes and fight. But that doesn’t make them a “problem kid” and less deserving of a good value education. Restorative justice focuses on repairing the harm caused by our actions through working towards a solution. Oftentimes with more after school programs, tutoring, sports and mental health supports we give these teens healthy and constructive outlets. By taking away less policing students feel less pressure and stress and feel more comfortable to thrive. They shouldn’t have to be told that their clothes or hats, or gum chewing is going to impact their education because it doesn’t. It means nothing until school officials make it into something.
In 2001, the government funded a £7 million, seven year research programme into restorative justice. The independent evaluation, published by the Ministry of Justice, found that in a randomised control trial of the use of restorative justice with adult offenders: 1.The majority of victims chose to participate in face to face meetings with the offender, when offered by a trained facilitator 2.85% of victims who took part were satisfied with the process 3. Restorative justice reduced the frequency of reoffending, leading to £9 in savings to the criminal justice system for every £1 spent on restorative justice.The government’s analysis of this research has concluded that restorative justice reduces the frequency of reoffending by 14%.” This is one of the many studies that shows how this works and can be applied to “major” offenses in place of suspensions. There is always room for improvement and change instead of immediate and harsh punishment.
To conclude, the question ultimately is why is this such a problem. Why does it matter if they’re targeted when there’s other kids that’ll take their place as our future doctors. But the answer is obvious. Black kids are just as worthy. Just as deserving. Just as brilliant when they’re believed in. They aren’t criminals or thugs or thieves like our current president classifies them as. They have the world of unlocked potential. We’ve seen what happens to kids who have the support they need. They dream big and conquer all of that and more. We have Katherine Johnsons and madame cj walkers and michelle obamas. We have Barack obamas and kobe bryants and james baldwins. We have kids who turn into adults who will shift the tide of the world.
Black High School Students. (2022, Sep 30).
Retrieved December 2, 2022 , from
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