The 5-Stop Path to Incarceration

Stop #1: Public Schools that are Failing

The beginning of the pipeline for the majority of students is often located at public schools where there are insufficient resources. Classrooms are too crowded, teachers are largely unqualified, and funding is slim for services and materials that students need.1 Such circumstances foster disengagement among students and increase their likelihood of dropping out and staying out of school, and hence, their likelihood of getting involved in the criminal justice system later on.2 This push-out is compounded by the fact that accountability pressures from high-stakes testing create incentives for schools to drop their lowest performers.3

Stop #2: Zero-Tolerance Policies and Other School Disciplinary Practices

These schools that are failing and lacking these crucial resources, in turn, have implemented zero-tolerance policies in their schools, which mandate harsh punishment for wrongdoing by students, no matter what the circumstances are. Expulsions have been handed to students for infractions such as bringing scissors or even nail clippers into school. As a result of such policies, students who are suspended and expelled are thrown into the outside world, in which they are typically unsupervised, without constructive tasks to perform, and more likely to fall behind with their schoolwork. These factors cause students to be more apt to disengage with school and to become drop-outs,1  as well as increase their chances of becoming involved with the court system.2  Additionally, in this environment of harsh discipline, schools have disregarded due process protections for students that have been suspended or expelled, especially ignoring due process protections for those students that have special needs. As statistics shows, this group of students is disproportionately found in the pipeline.1

Stop #3: The Policing of School Hallways

These schools further push students through the pipeline by putting disciplinary responsibility in the hands of school police, rather than in the hands of school teachers and administrators. School resource officers, who often lack experience working with youth, patrol the hallways, thus increasing the chances of school-based arrests for youth. Students are far more likely to be arrested in school for minor, non-violent offenses because of police presence in schools.1

Stop #4: The Existence of Disciplinary Alternative Schools

In some jurisdictions, students that are suspended or expelled from school are sent to disciplinary alternative schools. Such schools may be run by for-profit, private companies that are not held to curriculum standards or minimum classroom hours standards. Such schools may not give the students the services that they really need, and as a consequence, these students will return to their former schools without being equipped with the resources they need to succeed, get stuck in inferior educational tracks, or get pushed through these alternative schools and right into the juvenile justice system.1

 Stop #5: Involvement with the Court System and Juvenile Detention

Youth that have experienced the above stops often become involved with the court and the juvenile justice system. When they do become involved, however, they are often not afforded procedural protections. These youths that get pushed through the pipeline land in juvenile detention facilities that rarely provide educational services. Once there, if youths wish to go back to traditional schools, they face several barriers. Most will not finish high school.1