Fact Sheet: How Bad Is the School-to-Prison Pipeline?

By Carla Amurao

“In these days, it is doubtful that any child may reasonably be expected to succeed in life if he is denied the opportunities of an education.  Such an opportunity, where the state has undertaken to provide it, is a right that must be made available on equal terms.”

–  Chief Justice Earl Warren, Brown v. Board of Education (1954)

The school-to-prison pipeline: an epidemic that is plaguing schools across the nation. Far too often, students are suspended, expelled or even arrested for minor offenses that leave visits to the principal’s office a thing of the past. Statistics reflect that these policies disproportionately target students of color and those with a history of abuse, neglect, poverty or learning disabilities.

Students who are forced out of school for disruptive behavior are usually sent back to the origin of their angst and unhappiness—their home environments or their neighborhoods, which are filled with negative influence. Those who are forced out for smaller offenses become hardened, confused, embittered. Those who are unnecessarily forced out of school become stigmatized and fall behind in their studies; many eventually decide to drop out of school altogether, and many others commit crimes in their communities.

It is difficult to pinpoint the exact reason for the school-to-prison pipeline. Many attribute it to the zero tolerance policies that took form after the 1999 Columbine High School massacre. Others blame educators, accusing them of pushing out students who score lower on standardized tests in order to improve the school’s overall test scores. And some blame overzealous policing efforts. The reasons are many, but the solutions are not as plentiful.

So how bad is the school-to-prison pipeline? See the stats for yourself, leave suggestions, find programs in your local community, take a stance.

This infographic from SuspensionStories.com demonstrates a general overview:


Facts and Statistics:

–  A 2007 study by the Advancement Project and the Power U Center for Social Change says that for every 100 students who were suspended, 15 were Black, 7.9 were American Indian, 6.8 were Latino and 4.8 were white.

–  The same study reports that the U.S. spends almost $70 billion annually on incarceration, probation and parole. This number lends itself to a 127% funding increase for incarceration between 1987-2007. Compare that to a 21% increase in funding for higher education in the same 20-year span.

–  Based on statistics from the Civil Rights Data Collection (see sources below), in 2009, the Los Angeles Unified School District reported the following numbers for out-of-school suspensions: 62% Hispanic students, 33% Black students, 3% white and 2% Asian. LAUSD also reported that of their expulsions, 67% of Hispanic students and 5% of Black students were not offered educational services. Lastly, 77% Hispanics and 8% of Asian, Black and white students were expelled under zero tolerance policies.

–  The CRDC also shows that in 2009, the West Valley School District in Spokane, WA expelled 20% Black students and 60% white students and offered no educational services. Of those who were expelled, 10% Black students and 60% white students were done so under zero tolerance policies. Those who were referred to law enforcement included 10% Black students and 80% white students. However, Spokane school districts reported a higher number of enrolled white students. West Valley School district consisted of 86% white students and 4% Black students.

–  In St. Louis, MO schools, the Normandy School District’s 98% Black student population drew in the following: 100% of all students who received more than one out-of-school suspension, 100% of those who were expelled without educational services and 100% of those who were referred to law enforcement. In Missouri’s Ritenour School District, 67% of Black students vs. 33% white students were referred to law enforcement.

–  New Orleans, LA has numbers equally as staggering. The Orleans Parish School Board’s expulsions under zero tolerance policies were 100% Black, with 67% of their school-related arrests being Black students. The RSD-Algiers Charter School Association had 75% of their expelled students without educational services black. Furthermore, 100% of their expulsions under zero tolerance policies and 100% of their school-related arrests were all Black students.

Below are expanded statistics pulled from the Civil Rights Data Collection, with latest results from 2009.

Remember: While it’s easy to think the school-to-prison pipeline only impacts particular students and their respective families, we must remember that our whole society will feel the consequences. Today’s youth are tomorrow’s leaders. And we must remember that we cannot teach a student who is not in school.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

Please note that the WNET editorial staff reserves the right to not post comments it deems to be inappropriate and/or malicious in nature, as well as edit comments for length, clarity and fairness. No solicitations or advertisements will be allowed. Users may link to other Web sites relevant to discussion, but most often links to commercial Web sites will not be permitted.
Last modified: March 28, 2013 at 11:40 pm
Home | About | Schedule | Pledge | PBS Privacy Policy | Shop