The School-to-Prison Pipeline
We are told from a young age to live for the future. We go to high school so we can go to college, get a degree, get a job, settle down, marry, and have our white picket fence in front of our suburban homes. The life track we have been told to follow since birth, begins with high school. The purpose of high school is to teach and prepare us for college and the rest of our lives. Of course, we do not need college, but high school should be preparing us for the rest of our lives. High school’s purpose is certainly not to essentially funnel students of color into our flawed criminal justice system.
High schools continued use of zero tolerance policies and in-school police officers has lead to institutions of education and prisons becoming more connected than ever. To be frank, we think these methods work because why would we have zero tolerance policies and SROs (school resource officers) if they were not affective? The sustained use of these negative policies can be attributed to the fact that we see these policies as keeping anarchy from breaking out in schools. We have kept zero tolerance policies despite the fact that they do not improve a students overall academic well being; according to a study by the Center for Community Alternatives, 75% of colleges gather high school disciplinary records from their applicants and almost 90% of those schools use said records to make admissions decisions. This means a student who was suspended for a minor, non violent violation will see their chance of being accepting into college severely decrease. Similarly, students who have been suspended are more likely to drop out according to a study published by the American Journal of Community Psychology. Northeastern University also found that about one in every ten male high school dropouts are in jail, while only one of every thirty five males with a high school diploma is in jail. High school’s with zero tolerance policies are preventing students from attending colleges, encouraging them to drop out, and pushing them toward the criminal justice system. Additionally, zero tolerance polices affect latino/black students more. The National Education Policy Center (NEPC) published a study showing how black students are more likely to be suspended for things such as insubordination, while white students mainly get suspended for provable offenses like doing drugs.
Zero tolerance polices just add to the racial disparities we see in the criminal justice system, and SROs are not effective either. Initially, they were put in place after Columbine to protect schools from campus shooters. According to a study done by Matthew Theriot from the University of Tennessee, schools that have SROs usually have an increased number of student arrests, but despite the large number of arrests, very few students were actually charged in court. Considering very few students were charged in court, we see schools with SROs do not have a substantive amount of serious crime, but if you are a person of color attending a school with a SRO, you are more likely to be arrested.
Clearly, zero tolerance policies and SROs do not help improve high schools. Instead, they negatively affect black and Latino students, essentially stopping them from getting that white picket fence. The solution to harmful polices is, of course, to get rid of them, and replace them with something better. In this case the something better is restorative justice. Restorative justice is based upon the idea that when students get into arguments, the school does not suspend both students; instead the students come together and talk it out. The Oakland school district has been testing this policy for over ten years; they found that graduation rates increased by 60% after implementing the restorative justice program. According to Sonia Jain-Aghi, who helped create the 2015 report analyzing the restorative justice program, creating “a restorative justice program in a school increases student engagement, brings in a more positive social environment and teaches problem-solving, all of which contribute to the better academic results.” The reports and studies do not lie, zero tolerance policies and SROs do not work. Restorative justice does.
While restorative justice is clearly the future, Boulder seems to be stuck in the past. There are six school districts in the Boulder Valley School District, including (but not limited to) Fairview High School, Boulder High School, Centaurs High School, and Broomfield High School. Fairview High’s student handbook cites “zero tolerance” for certain offenses. Boulder High School’s student handbook is worse- their list of offenses includes “willful disobedience, defiance, or insubordination”; the consequence could be a five day suspension (and studies done by the NEPC show these types of policies hurt black students more than their white counterparts). Centaurs High and Broomfield High have more effective policies in the sense that they include restorative justice as a possible consequence (but both schools still suspend students). The Boulder Valley School District is on its way to becoming a better district for its minority students, but we could still take a few hints from the Oakland School District. That is, of course, if BVSD wants their graduation rates to increase while creating a better student environment.
High school is not meant to prepare us for a life within the criminal justice system. Yet, this is exactly what high school’s in Boulder (and across the country) do. The life track we are told to follow is not for everyone, but we all should have equal opportunity to go to college, get a degree, get a job, and have our white picket fence in front of our suburban homes. Zero tolerance policies and SROs stand in the way of that life, which is reason enough for high schools to begin the process of reversing decade old policies that favor certain students over others.
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Dillon, Sam. “Study Finds High Rate of Imprisonment Among Dropouts.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 8 Oct. 2009, www.nytimes.com/2009/10/09/education/09dropout.html.
Hemphill, Sheryl A., et al. “Pathways From School Suspension to Adolescent Nonviolent Antisocial Behavior in Students in Victoria, Australia and Washington State, United States.” Journal of Community Psychology, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 1 Apr. 2012, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3774047/.
Losen, Daniel J. “Discipline Policies, Successful Schools, and Racial Justice.” National Education Policy Center, National Education Policy Center, 5 Oct. 2011, nepc.colorado.edu/publication/discipline-policies.
Turner, Cory, and Kavitha Cardoza. “All-Boys School In D.C. Focuses On Helping Young Men Of Color.” NPR, NPR, 19 Oct. 2017, www.npr.org/2017/10/19/558706791/all-boys-school-in-d-c-focuses-on-helping-young-men-of-color.
Oakley, Doug. “Oakland: School district to expand restorative justice programs to all 86 schools.” The Mercury News, The Mercury News, 14 Jan. 2015, www.mercurynews.com/2015/01/14/oakland-school-district-to-expand-restorative-justice-programs-to-all-86-schools/.
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