The School-to-Prison Pipeline

The school-to-prison pipeline concept resonated with me specifically due to my research on juvenile crime, specifically Juveniles serving Life sentences without the possibility of Parole (JLWOP). One of the predominant arguments of JLWOP that could also pertain to the school-to-prison pipeline concept is brain development. Whether the child is in elementary school, middle school, or high school the brain is still developing, and is often unaware of the consequences of an action. Punitive treatment will do little to promote personal growth or rehabilitate the individual to improve their behavior. The trend of disciplining students with behavioral issues and ignoring students that fail to actively participate in learning is continuing, creating an effect that funnels disadvantaged students right into the criminal justice system.

Nieto and Bode (2012) discuss the Resistance Theory and how some students may refuse to learn or participate, or possibly dropping out. As a result, teachers tend to be “frustrated by apparently disinterested youth who look bored and disengaged” (Nieto & Bode, p. 267). Not suggesting that teachers should then become more invested in those students, but a teacher should strive to teach every individual within the classroom. As “bored” students become ignored, they may further fall into a pattern of resistant behavior.

            The Children’s Defense Fund found that “young Black men in the United States are incarcerated in the juvenile justice system at four times the rate of White youth” (Nieto & Bode, p. 267). In 2007, the Justice Policy Institute released data which reported that “Disparities in educational opportunities contribute to a situation in which communities of color experience less educational attainment than whites, are more likely to be incarcerated, and more likely to face higher violent crime rates” (p. 2). The unwillingness to incorporate what has been termed “Black English” is often putting students whose culture and language differ from their White teacher’s Standard English at a disadvantage (Nieto & Bode, p. 120). If grades are suffering due to a language barrier and students are not succeeding because their urban vernacular is inappropriate on an academic level, the correlation between crime and lack of education is bound to continue.

            By continuing this cycle of minority students resisting education and falling into self-fulfilling prophecies, it is not only harming the individual, but there is extensive research to support the ways it causes harm to the larger population. In 2006, the Alliance for Excellent Education reported that in the United States “a 5 percent increase in male high school graduation rates would produce an annual savings of almost $5 billion in crime-related expenses. Coupled with annual earnings of those who graduated, the U.S. would receive $7.7 billion in benefits” (Justice Policy Institute, p. 3). With local taxes often being the prime funding for schools, it is inevitable that poor neighborhoods are going to attribute less funding than wealthy communities. Open Minds to Equality (2006) suggests that without monetary support, schools located in poor neighborhoods lack the same resources and extracurricular programs that are easily accessible in wealthier schools.

            Children are vulnerable and teachers must attempt to create an atmosphere that actively involves all students and fosters a healthy learning environment. If a teacher’s expectations of a student effects their teaching and how they treat certain individuals, the student’s susceptibility to these actions are likely to have an effect on their behavior, as well. 


Justice Policy Institute. (2007). Education and Public Safety. Washington, D.C.

Nieto, S., & Bode, P. (2012). Affirming Diversity: The Sociopolitical Context of Multicultural Education. Boston, MA: Pearson.

Schniedewind, N., & Davidson, E. (2006). Open Minds to Equality. Milwaukee, WI: Pearson.


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