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.

  • Lamont

    This has been a reflection of how we feel about other people as humans for along time in the country ( I use the word human very very loose). It is also a refection on how black males think about each other in there own country the states. The people who make these laws are the same ones who were doing LSD or any drug of choice and they now tell people to have their kids take drugs at age 3 or 4 for behavior issues but they don’t want them to drink or do street drugs because it is bad for you. What EVER HAPPEN TO THE SAY NO TO DRUGS WHITE HOUSE SLOGAN. I can go on about this topic because I was born into many things just by blood line. I will leave you with this last statement about pro life. No one has every been pro life ( this people should be the first one solving this problem because they can take a life that has nothing to do with them so why don’t they save life’s that have nothing to do with them but fit the slogan of pro life) they have been pro birth and after that they don’t look at persons life.

  • Ernesto Villasenor

    Although this information is not too alarming (I am a Compton High graduate, currently about to finish my undergrad at RPI and then off to my Master’s and Doctorate as a Gates Millennium Scholar and YP4 Social Justice Fellow and have seen this firsthand), it just shows the level of social injustices that are institutionalized AND are not thoroughly addressed or even discussed within Congress. Such injustices that occur in inner city community and communities that are comprised of low SES populations just make it impossible for us to successfully survive “in da hood.”

    It’s issues like these that lead on to other education and public health disparities that disproportionately affect us…and of course, this leads on to bigger societal burdens that shouldn’t be burdens in the first place.

  • Julie Wood

    This problem within the school systems countinues to become worse. The current school I attend is changing its policies to stricter and as the Superintendant puts it, “Safer”. Though my current school has never had a history of violence and in fact has always been one of the top competing schools in my city’s public school system.
    Most of the percentage of students end up going to college or military. There was never a reason for the policies to change. Now the school looks closer to a prison every day. The changes have only just started within the last week but what will happen if this does more harm than good. Is there anyway to protect the once postive atmosphere of a school when it starts to enter the school-to-prison pipeline.

  • Frank Simpkins

    Tavis, keep on being true to yourself.. When nearly 50% of the adult population in Black inner-cities are functionally illiterate and over 50% of Black students in inner-city schools are reading and writing at a peak level of 4.9 grade equivalency in the 11th and 12th grades, we have one hell of a problem!! If you don’t read, you don’t know and will never find out.. In 1913 more than 70% of the Black population in America was literate, a net gain of 65% in the fifty years since 1863 and the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, which supposedly freed the slaves…Currently, in somewhat modern times, our illiteracy rate within the Black community is approaching 50%.. Are we reverting back to the days of slavery and reconstruction? Proven and current research links reading failure to delinquency and proposes that ”Research-based reading instruction be used to reduce recidivism and increase employment opportunity for incarcerated juvenile offenders..”
    Other studies found that there was no correlation with aggression and age, family size, or number of parents in the home, rural versus urban environment, social-economic status, minority group membership, religious preference, etc.. Only reading failure was found to correlate with aggression in both adolescent and juvenile delinquent boys…Again, ” If You Don’t Read, You Don’t Know and Will Never Find Out..” Please read the new book” The Unfinished Business of the Civil Rights Movement: Failure of America’s Public Schools to Properly Educate its African Student Populations..” Its currently available on Amazon.com, or Rosedogbooks.com…

  • David

    I work in a urban High School that is very racially diverse, and unfortunately the majority of the suspensions happen to be African American males. However, this is not because they are being singled out for punishment. In fact many times their minor offenses are overlooked because the school administration does not want this racial gap to be real. My question is what does a school do? I myself was physically threatened by an african american male student and he was suspended. Should he had not been suspended? Yes, we also spoke to him and explained to him why his actions were so dangerous, and he seemed to understand but should he not be punished for such action? How do we get through boys who believe it is “acting white” to achieve in school? I am a minority male who grew up in public housing. My mother did not let listen to rap music because she believed it had a bad influence on my brothers. I became an urban educator because I want to give disadvantaged youth a chance. The same chance many teachers gave me. However, I am at a lost as to fix a hyper aggressive attitude that I believe is truly preventing students(especially certain minority students) from succeeding. Please we all know the statistics! Tell us solutions! Testing, Charter schools, Expensive evaluation tools are not working! We need real solutions. I believe we need universal pre-k with full blown character education. We need to be providing programs to parents and help them understand the importance of having their children succeed in school. We need to expand head start beyond the third grade. These are things I believe will make a difference but I cannot be sure of that. Breaking this cycle will be tough and require MONEY.We know that public housing has been a massive failure. We know that placing the poor in one central location just compounds their problems. Let us truly integrate our economic classes. Also, we must tackle income inequality. Without doing these things we stand no chance.

  • Michael D. Flemons

    I have organized a grassroot movement, Black Men Down: Missing In Action!, to address the impact of the Prison Industrial Complex on Black families through the implementation of a insidious plan to alienate and devalue Black men and boys for profit.

  • Gwen

    Thank you David. I am a Kinder teacher in an affluent community, but in a disadvantaged neighborhood. I believe you are right with your ideas of universal pre-k and careful behavior feedback from early ages. We need to work together to move things forward in a structured and solid way. We must behave like scientists as we develop our theories, test and prove our methods. Galileo’ ideas were not accepted until he proved them to be true by careful planning, implementing, observing, recording and showing the success of the ideas. We must do the same by caring enough to focus carefully. Thank you for giving my work some new force.

  • Bart Christner

    “I met Frank E. Johnson, ASC Director/Producer (of “Touched by an Angel” and “Amazing Racer” among others) who is attempting to raise funds to make a feature film, a movie that MUST BE made. It’s about a young man nearly destroyed, and thousands of others saved from this awful Pipeline. I found PHASE4 Learning Center and it is a cross-Pennsylvania alternative school, successfully graduating in the past ten years, thousands of otherwise lost youth to the Prison Industrial Complex. The school was founded based on one youth’s ordeal, by a kind teacher who saw this child, once involved in the U.S. Judicial system nearly lost over two decades in prison. Backing him with every penny she had, two years or more in legal fees, a corrupt judge, and taking this child into her home, she spared this boy 25 years or more in prison. But two years of missed high school.. meant he would never get his diploma. He might be academically lost for life. Today, thanks to one woman and her school – he’s on his own, a great Dad to his three children (I’ve met him personally) and thousands like him have since been spared the prison industrial complex, are tax paying citizens, and role-models for today’s youth. Please, this film must be created – it is a cross between “The Blind Side”, “Rudy”, and “Erin Brockovich”. If anyone knows of a philanthropist, individual, or organization that wants to stop the “School to Prison” pipeline. Consider any source to help us invest in/make/fund this movie. It is based on a real teen and his teacher, Terrie Suica-Reed, the woman who as a result founded the successful PHASE4 Learning Center, and so far across nearly two dozen districts, thousands of teens lives – and their children’s lives in turn – spared as a result. I was so impressed by this story, I’m assisting currently to place PHASE4 Learning graduates into jobs, and have sought any potentially wealthy philanthropist/investor/organization/individual that might share Director Johnson’s same passion in making a movie to change the way America thinks about this awful School to Prison Pipeline!” – Barton “Bart” James Christner

  • isaac

    I hate to say, but I am also one of the kids that got kicked out of school and put in to the system. I am only 16, and I have been kicked out of all schools for the rest of my high school years, I currently attend SIATech, a charter school and the only schol that would accept me. Is it really necesary for the schools to kick us so called ” juvinals” out of school? What are they planning on accomplishing by doing so? A better school rating? Or a worse economy because now we have ever more kids and adults that have no education and are living in poverty?

  • lyricdis14

    It’s unfortunate to know that school-to-prison pipeline is targeting minority. I’m a minority, and when I was younger going to a predominant white school in the south, it was a daily reminder that I was not like the rest. It’s hard, in such a young age trying to defend your integrity, value, moral, belief and dignity, when you have people in your ears telling you, “What you can’t do or become.” I believe some school faculty staffs take advantage of their authority, and use their prejudice and discrimination to justify their ignorance. In order for history to not repeat itself, we must evaluate our way of thinking and hold ourselves accountable. I’m tired of the social system trying to force feed me a hopeless dream. I have rights, so why do I feel trap in the system. It is now 2014, and slowly changes are being made but not quickly enough. Needless to say, this problem is going to take a while to fix because it starts with the individuals first and then the system. If you do not see a problem with the school-to-prison pipeline trend and its pattern, then it’s deeper than I expect.

  • Manny Jimenez

    The school to prison pipe line is affecting the current progress of our nations educational system thus for affecting its future. Adolescents who commit the common teens mistakes are being held as criminals for misdemeanors such as truancy, possession of marijuana and other such minor offenses causing them to lose their chances in life due to a mistake they once made. Schools should lower the penalty consequence for such behavior ,not to let the student get away with what he or she has committed, but so that the student may learn from his or her life experiences and continue on with their education letting them keep their opportunities towards a successful future. Teens who are sent to the dean are most likely to get a ticket or warning from the school. Some students who get the ticket cannot always pay the fee especially those in low income communities and families that are barely getting by thus for the reason to why low income communities are affected by this pipe line because not all families have extra money they can use to pay off the tickets whereas those in middle and high class communities can simply pay the fee and not have to worry about the matter following or haunting them for the rest of their lives. Teens who cannot pay their fines attend a court date on that day the teen may miss the date by forgetting or simply because he or she was not able to attend leading to a even greater offense which is a failed attempt to attend court. After the teen misses the make up trial he is then filed with a warrant for missing court every time the teen cannot attend he seeps deeper into the pipe lines trap eventually leading to prison time…..

  • Dr. Mary Bell

    I am working with students in a county-wide Adult Parolee Re-entry Program. I share this report with my GED students in hopes of helping them recognize, they are not alone; they are “at choice;” and they have the power to “choose again.” Almost 100% of my students relate to the data provided and indicate the report is a snapshot of their experiences at some point in their life. Thank you very much for doing the Fact Sheet on the School-to-Prison Pipeline. It is very helpful.

  • Marilyn Jordan

    We are an organization that works to engage the community about this kind of plague, how can we help each other help others.

  • Andrew Weatherly

    I teach the GED in a medium custody, NC state prison. In seven years instructing inside, I’ve never had a student who came from an upper class or even middle class background. Everyone has been from a working class or lower situation. Whereas the Special Ed or other disability students in a ‘normal’ public school class are on average about 3-5%, a third to half of my students have learning disabilities. Nearly all used some type of drugs, legal or not, or alcohol in excessive amounts. Most of them dropped out when they turned 16, if they weren’t already in a youth incarceration facility.

  • @Unknwnstuntman

    How can school districts divert the school-to-prison pipeline?
    1. Increase the use of positive behavior interventions and supports.
    2. Compile annual reports on the total number of disciplinary actions that push students out of the classroom based on gender, race and ability.
    3. Create agreements with police departments and court systems to limit arrests at school and the use of restraints, such as mace and handcuffs.
    4. Provide simple explanations of infractions and prescribed responses in the student code of conduct to ensure fairness.
    5. Create appropriate limits on the use of law enforcement in public schools.
    6. Train teachers on the use of positive behavior supports for at-risk students.

    You see David I think a large part of the point is activities that are considered “boys will be boys” or “youthful indiscretion” in the eyes of the law and society when done by white students are seen as “dangerous acts of hyper agression” by black students…even as early as pre school. This first and foremost MUST STOP!!! What you see as agression they see as needed for survival . Not really because they hate anyone or even that they’re mad at any one. But they have already started to learn, each in there own ways, the two central lessons that the United States government has been teaching our society as a whole over the last few weeks: 1. They as black men are not victims…they are prey. 2. As long as you’re not black and carrying a badge (or some other imaginary symbol of athourity)…it’s open season.

  • Jarred

    Here’s what I’ve observed as a professional in the field of Mental Health and Social Services and also as a PhD student in Counseling and Human Services. The problem and complication with focus on whether a minority is targeted is the lack of identifying the true problem. The true issue is within the culture and economics of that race. Regardless of race statistics show that those of lower socioeconomic status are more likely to commit and be prosecuted for offenses and show. There are multiple articles and research showing income levels directly impact success in the education system and society. I’ve seen multiple examples in court where an adolescent of minority is given more chances and flexibility than those of white race. Of course I understand there are exceptions but if the culture and economics is focused on rather than assuming prejudice more could be accomplished. As another person commented the prison population is full of different races and as the numbers show the majority are minorities. However, the numbers show that almost all of those of any race in prison came from poor families who were unable to provide support to their children the way wealthy families were If we are to look at most conflicts and concerns over the past 2 decades they all boil down to economics. A greater focus should be placed on providing more effective education, opportunity, and those that are wealthy pouring more money into the education and social system to afford opportunity to those that aren’t.

  • Five

    One of the major problems that needs to be addressed are parents who don’t want to be parents. They prefer doing drugs or worrying about who is paying attention to them, and therefore take little interest in their hindrances (children). Susan Smith, who killed her children so she wouldn’t lose her boyfriend, is a prime example of this. Another issue is psychological problems for which there are no cures, only treatments, such as behavior altering drugs, and taught or self-learned coping skills. Those do onot always work. Yes some people are just “born bad”, admittedly an oversimplification, but we do not have a way to measure chemicals in the brain, nor do we yet know how people get wired to be a certain way. We simply cannot fix everyone, not at school, not in our society, and not in the world.
    The bottom line is that it is not always the fault of the parent or the home environment. A person can do everything right and still wind up with nisbehaving or criminal child. I know because I Have bene there,. and since the concerned child is still alive and well, I am still dealing with the issues.

  • tbwj780

    So, according to the infographic, we should be calling “it” the foster care system to jailhouse pipeline? How about the calling it “being born poor to the jailhouse”? My colleagues and I who teach at an alternative high school try our darnedest to mentor, support, provide clothes for, and otherwise work with our students. Yet, we are to blame when a 17 year old with a lengthy criminal record who recently enrolled in our school is arrested for yet another crime. Solving the issues of poverty, parental illiteracy, lack of jobs, etc. is beyond the scope of teachers alone.

  • http://avangionq.stumbleupon.com/ AvangionQ

    This is perhaps the worst form of racism, the prison industrial complex sinks to a new low profiteering off the misery of children.

Last modified: March 28, 2013 at 11:40 pm
Home | About | Schedule | Pledge | PBS Privacy Policy | Shop