Schools to Prison Pipeline

Last night I was part of a forum that discussed the school to prison pipeline and amongst the many issue that resonated with me the one that particularly struck a chord was how adult solutions have crept into child/adolescent behaviors.  When I hear adults using terms like “tough on crime” and “zero tolerance” I cringe because what that symbolizes to me is adult concerns have superseded the mistakes that young people often make on their way to being responsible adults.

Part of being young and an even bigger part of the learning process is to be afforded the opportunity to make mistakes, but now mistakes have consequences that can cost you a lifetime of opportunities.  That experiment with marijuana or that fight with your now best friend can result in adult consequences that at 16 you never knew would impact you for the rest of your life.

That being said what’s even bigger for me and a point that I think is often overlooked is our acceptance of the prison culture that has now impacted our school system.  What I mean by this is, anyone would be hard pressed to distinguish the difference between what is a school and what is a detention center (i.e. metal detectors, surveillance cameras, uniformed students, and armed security guards).  Therefore, it could be easily assumed given the aforementioned we are conditioning students for what may be their ultimate fate.  And if you live in a public housing complex and attend an urban school then your home environment reinforces the idea.

Sometimes I wonder if the gates were put up to keep crime out or keep our ass in….

-Cell Therapy (Cello Green/Goodie Mo)

What’s of further concern to me is our resolve to ignore or at the very least our unwillingness to discuss how the historical framework by which the public school system was formed and its history of delivering particular populations to low wage jobs. Thereby, ignore the consequences when those opportunities where no longer available or shipped to China the same populations became and are still becoming fuel for the criminal justice engine.  There again helping us to become the world’s leader in incarceration.

Another point that I have come to believe is that the school to prison pipeline is just one cog in a complex wheel.  What I mean by that is you cannot deny the relationship between our insatiable appetite for test data and how that impacts the relationship between schools and prisons.  Yet we continue to invest more and more into systems of testing and those schools who have done poorly and the children that attend them become the fuel for our incarceration engine.  Simply look at the correlation between testing data and the decision to build prisons.

The research is clear regarding schools that have the highest rate of teacher turnover, the highest rate of new teachers, the highest rate of discipline issues and are located in most cases poor neighborhoods and have high incarceration rates.   Therefore, prison or some level of criminal justice system contact becomes almost an inevitable fate for children living in them.

Finally its not that I personally believe in some nefarious plot by school systems to send young people to prison.  I do however, question are we prepared to change the system that fosters a school to prison pipeline especially when there is an entire economic system tied to it.

That’s My Truth and I AM Sticking to It…

Dr. Irvin PeDro Cohen

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