Episode Overview


  • 68% of urban high schools now have police (SROs) patrolling their corridors.
  • Most teens in the juvenile justice system are there for non-violent crimes, such as truancy and disruptive behavior.
  • One out of every three teens who is arrested is arrested in school.
  • Two-thirds to three-fourths of teens who are incarcerated in juvenile detention centers withdraw or drop out of high school.

This reality has been called “the school-to-prison pipeline.”

Photo credit: TS Media, Inc./ Richard Ross.

The second in a series of education specials from Tavis Smiley Reports, “Education Under Arrest” looks at the connection between the juvenile justice system and the dropout rate among American teens and the efforts by educators, law enforcement professionals, judges, youth advocates and the at-risk teens themselves to end this link. Tavis takes his cameras to Washington State, Louisiana, Missouri and California to present a narrative of what is working on the frontlines of reform.

Schools throughout the country have become key entry points into the juvenile justice system. In fact, one in three of every teens arrested is arrested in school. Today, according to experts and advocates working on behalf of at-risk teens, too often, disciplinary problems that in prior generations were handled within the school, such as disruptive behavior, foul language and truancy, are dealt with through suspension, expulsion and arrests.

Too many schools, both public and charter, still operate under the so-called “Zero Tolerance” mandate, which came about after the horrifying Columbine tragedy. This has resulted in kids being removed from school as a first response rather than a last resort. And once kids are suspended or expelled from school, it’s very difficult to get them back on track.

This episode looks at the efforts by those on the frontlines of reform to examine what is working to break the school-to-prison pipeline and keep teens from incarceration and in school. As Judge Jimmie Edwards of St. Louis tells Tavis, “I truly believe as an appointed judge, I can stand up and say lock ‘em up and throw away the key is not the answer. I truly believe we need to educate them.” “Education Under Arrest” investigates successful initiatives to do just that.

  • Carroll Baum

    Good brother I have criticised you in the past,in terms of exploiting the poor for ratings. However, you showed concern and compassion for our young people in a way that begins to destroy the myth. Inspite of the fact that the older citizens may fear of the younger ones.,We will hand the governing of our communities over to them one day. If we do not correct our mistakes that we have made with them, they will repeat them with their grand chidren. We must believe that they are bigger than our critique of them also.

  • Akin

    As I watched the episode, all I could think of are my kids and what I can do to make sure they don’t fall into this trap. I understand the piece is focusing on the school / criminal justice systems but I think the origin of some of these issues arises with the family. If all these efforts being made by these wonderful groups are to be effective, we have to address the family angle in parallel. Just an additional view.

  • Joy Ledbetter

    We have been foster parents for 46 years and are still doing foster care at the age of 76 and we have for the last 15 years have taken in boys that are in trouble with the law and have problems in school and last night I watched your program for the first time (with my boys) and what an eye opener. The boys agreed with the judge that being in jail was not always the answer. I feel all the children we have had since 1966 are good kids and I love each and everyone no matter what they might have done. They all need help, love and someone who cares to guide them.

  • Pearl Barkley

    In order to speak intelligently about the school to prison pipeline which by the way, has existed for a long time in the Black community, concerned individuals must ask themselves some serious questions:
    Do we as a society, value children?
    Why do we keep accepting the commoditization of human life?
    What is the role of parent?
    Are parents supported in their role by the community?
    Why is there no preparation for two of the most important endeavors in social living, relationships and child- rearing in this society?
    Are we civilized or just technologically savvy?

  • Camaya


  • Amber

    Thank you for the work you and your staff bring into attention. I am involved in the transportation aspect of this critical dynamic. I see these kids and my heart goes out to our next generation. These type of programs are necessary and prudent, but we as a society have a way to go before making the mark. This however, is a great step forward.

Last modified: March 26, 2013 at 8:47 pm
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