The Need to Close the School-to-Prison Pipeline

By: Jessica Miraglia

In 2010, schools across the United States suspended more than three million (3,000,000) students from school. At this same time, the schools also referred more than two hundred fifty thousand (250,000) students to local police departments who issued misdemeanor citations to the students. Using these procedures of suspension and police intervention forces the children out of school, and pushes them towards the criminal justice system. This is known as the school-to-prison pipeline. Unfortunately, school funding cuts, police officers being present in schools, and zero tolerance policies only make matters worse.

The school-to-prison pipeline has affected children with disabilities, children of minority races, and children who identify as LGBT the most. Three times more African-American students are suspended than Caucasian students, and African-American and Latino students make up seventy percent of the cases referred to local police departments for citation issuance. Children with a disability are twice as likely to be suspended, and children who identify as LGBT are one and one half times more likely to be suspended.

When these students are suspended, they are not in school, and therefore they are not learning. School officials are merely giving the children permission to not attend school. Additionally, suspension is an early predictor of inevitable school drop out. School drop out leads to a higher chance of unemployment, dependence on welfare, and imprisonment in the child’s future. When school officials are suspending children, they are encouraging the growth of the school-to-prison pipeline.

In order to help eliminate the school-to-prison pipeline, schools across the United States have implemented discipline procedures that minimize suspensions and police intervention. A few states, including Colorado and Maryland, also passed states laws that restrict suspensions and expulsions. Training school personnel is very important, especially on cultural awareness and diversity. School personnel need to build healthy relationships with the students and be open to helping them, rather than pushing them out and into the school-to-prison pipeline. Getting to the root of the disciplinary problem is more important than punishment. Suspending children is the easy way out on the front end, but can cause major problems in the future.


Mary Ellen Flannery, The School-to-Prison Pipeline: Time to Shut it Down, neaToday (January 5, 2015),

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