What is the School to Prison Pipeline?
Over the past 15 years, students in Utah have been suspended or expelled for the following: wearing a pro-vegan t-shirt, unnatural hair color, and interrupting a school basketball game. This is part of a national phenomenon known as the school-to-prison pipeline, where students are ending up in the jailhouse instead of the schoolhouse. The problem in Utah is particularly severe.
We start with over-use of suspensions and expulsions to discipline students, especially students of color. Nationally, 17% of Black students and 7% of Hispanic students were suspended at least once, while only 5% of white students were suspended. In Utah, for every 100 Hispanic and Black students, 6.7 and 7.8 are suspended, respectively, compared with 2.4 for every 100 white students.
There is a direct link between school discipline and failure to graduate from high school. The number one reason students give for dropping out of high school is a suspension or expulsion. When minor disciplinary matters lead to suspension or expulsion, children fall behind in school and become more likely to give up completely and drop out. As a result, Utah has a state-wide graduation rate problem. We rank a poor 32nd in the nation for graduation rates, with only 78% of our students graduating from high school in 2012. For example, Latinos, Utah’s largest minority population, graduated at an abysmal rate of 62%.
Due to a lack of education, a lack of resource, or a lack of opportunity, kids who drop out of school often find themselves at a higher risk of being incarcerated. Eighty percent of the American prison population does not have a high school diploma and a student who does not graduate high school is 3.5 times more likely to be arrested in adulthood.
When parents dream about their children’s futures, they don’t envision prison bars, but rather college and prestigious jobs. While not every parent’s dream will come true, let’s at least try to avoid a nightmare. How do we keep these dreams alive? How to we stop the school-to-prison pipeline? We as parents, students, and school administrators need to be aware of the problem, and help kids stay in school. We need to recognize that school discipline does not solve every problem and can do more harm than good. We need to ensure that students and parents know their rights.
We have to stop the School to Prison Pipeline. You know, for the kids.