What is the school-to-prison pipeline?
The school-to-prison pipeline is a no-nonsense trend in American education, where children are directed straight from the classroom and into the bureaucratic clutches of the criminal justice system.
The phenomenon manifests itself in disciplinary practices and zero-tolerance policies that criminalize unruly behavior and minor infractions such as truancy, graffiti or violating a school dress code. Not only that, it involves the presence of security guards, and police on campus, breaking up trivial playground fights with a billy-club and a taser.
Gone are the days of the blackboard jungle, when you could give your paper tiger of a schoolmaster some delinquent lip and get away with it. These days, interrupting teacher during class might get you pepper sprayed and hauled off to jail in full restraints to face the full wrath of the juvenile justice system. Whatever happened to detention after school? It got farmed out to the cops. Unbelievable? No sports fans, only in America!
Where did these zero-tolerance policies of zero-sense come from? Fear of Columbine-style massacres ushered in the modern era of paranoia and punishment in the classroom. Now the open halls of education lead to the closed doors and barred grilles of the prison cell. School has become a police state and a halfway house to jail. It is a great act of violence committed against youth by adults.
Little surprise that many kids caught in the school-to-prison pipeline come from low-income families; have learning disabilities or histories of abuse and neglect. Indeed, they are the very ones who might benefit from a well-rounded education. Instead, they are alienated, excluded, criminalized and written off by society.
So, what exactly is this school-to-prison pipeline? Simple: it's just another term for institutional racism and incarcerating disadvantaged African-American schoolchildren instead of educating them. It's happening right now, every day, in every town and city in America, and yet there is an absence of public outrage.
Jim Crow in the classrooms of 21st Century America, surely not? Yes, unfortunately. Young black kids, males especially, have always been at threat of punishment by unhinged authority figures afraid of school violence. The figures are shocking. And racial disproportionality in the school-to-prison pipeline is a black and white fact. But black, white or whatever, it's an aberrant policy and practice to criminalize children and pollute the future waters of society.
Moreover, the whole thing gives you pause to wonder, whatever happened to the social contract between teacher and parent in public schools? Black, white or whatever, we send our kids on good faith to the cherished institution of school, hoping that they will exit the experience fully qualified for the rigors of a sophisticated, ever changing world. We don't tend to think of school as the problem itself.
No parent wants to send his or her child to an environment that isn't safe and secure. But no parent would think of school as a backward meat grinder that fails kids and puts them in boot camp. So much for the legal doctrine of in loco parentis, but thanks all the same for the miscarriage of education, and the lesson our kids will never forget.
Every year, the U.S. spends $10,500 per child on education and $88,000 on each child incarcerated. Sixty-six percent of children who have been incarcerated never return to school. The U.S. incarcerates five times more children than any other nation state in the world. Is this the best that America can offer the child in the 21st Century?
"Let us reform our schools," said John Ruskin in 1862, "and we shall find little reform needed in our prisons." He wasn't wrong. Throwing kids in jail ruins lives and makes things worse all round for the family. It's time to lay down the gavel on criminalizing youth and make school the best days of their lives. It's a better investment for society in the long run.