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  • Emily G.

The School-to-Prison Pipeline: Criminalizing the Youth

Photo Credit: Joshua Polson/The Greeley Tribune/AP

In 2015, “a sheriff’s deputy in South Carolina was fired after he grabbed and threw a black student during a brutal arrest in a Spring Valley High School classroom.” Several videos surfaced of the in-school arrest going terribly wrong. The school resource officer (SRO) tells a female student to get up, but when she refuses, he immediately grabs her by the neck and tries to pick her up. As a defense mechanism she tries to hit him, then in return, he “flips over the student and her desk, and then tosses her to the other side of the room.”

This is just one example of excessive force and police brutality against Black people-- and these instances will continue to happen with more police presence in schools. The school-to-prison pipeline results in lost school time and bad marks on student records, thus making it more difficult for them to get ahead. This is especially true for Black students, as they are more likely to be criminalized than their peers which partially results from subconscious bias and dehumanization.

"Our research found that black boys can be seen as responsible for their actions at an age when white boys still benefit from the assumption that children are essentially innocent"

Studies have shown that between 1995 and 2019, juvenile arrests have declined 70%, yet some harmful practices, including the over reliance on police presence in schools, still remain. Youth are pushed into the criminal justice system earlier in life when there are SROs present in their schools, considering “nationwide, hundreds of thousands of students are arrested or given criminal citations at schools each year.”

“We are criminalizing our children for nonviolent offenses”

Many of these citations are for, what are known as, status offenses. Yet, most of these offenses never lead to more serious behavior. The students who suffer the most from SROs in schools are Black and Native American youth, according to a study conducted by the Annie E. Casey Foundation in 2019.

Photo Credit: The Annie E. Casey Foundation

One of the most important statistics to mention from this graph is that Black youth are 16x more likely to be confined compared to Asian and Pacific Islander students. Native American youth are not far behind Black youth in this trend either. There is a significant disparity between who is more likely to become confined or incarcerated which has stayed the same from 1997-2019.

“There is no evidence that placing officers in the schools improves safety”

Increased police presence and punitive disciplinary policies are not the best ways to resolve conflicts in schools, as there are many other practices and programs that do not have the same consequences as previously mentioned. STL Alliance for Reentry (STAR) has highlighted some practices and supervision programs that are designed to help high risk populations of youth succeed. These include strategies such as restorative justice, early intervention and diversion, SB 36, and CBT, among other practices and programs. When there are other solutions that have the potential to lead to a better outcome than increased police presence in schools, we have a duty to our youth to implement such practices.

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