The Social Justice Corner: How the school-to-prison pipeline is trading pencils for jumpsuits

Jaya Montague , Contributing Writer


One of the U.S. Department of Justice’s sources of income comes from the school-to-prison pipeline. The school-to-prison pipeline is a systematic passageway that takes the disciplinary actions of minor offenses from sitting in the principal’s office to sitting in the backseat of an officer’s patrol car. Students become caught in this pipeline because of schools’ “zero tolerance”  disciplinary policies, where part of the issue is  more government funding now being  spent on prisons versus education. The system marginalizes mostly black and other minority students in poor, inner city school districts. In a 2007 study done by the Advancement Project and the Power U Center for Social Change states, “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 general public does not know about the pipeline because having an education and having knowledge are not synonymous. The educated are aware of the system, but they do not have knowledge on the implications of the effects on those who are not educated or knowledgeable about the system.

In both societal and academic definitions of education, the attainment of knowledge is consistently interchangeable with “getting an education” which is half of the issue within schooling today. Confining knowledge and learning only to a school setting is ineffective. In the “banking concept” of education, according to “Pedagogy of the Oppressed,” Paul Freire, a Brazilian educator and philosopher states, “Instead of communicating, the teacher issues communiques and makes deposits which the students patiently receive, memorize and repeat.” Why is this ideology important? As Freire describes a predominant American educational philosophy, his ideals come from the method of didactic learning. Didactic method, in essence, is a “one-size fits all” education where students regurgitate information from the same yearly curriculum for a certain amount of time without having any actual knowledge about the subject.

The depletion of tools to educate students equals low standardized test scores, which results in less state funding for schools. If states have schools  that are not performing at least average on a national scale, they lose federal money to put into their districts. With this situation, there is no winner. Also from the same study done by the Advancement Project and the Power U Center for Social Change reports, “that the U.S. spends almost $70 billion annually on incarceration, probation and parole. This number lends itself to a 127 percent funding increase for incarceration between 1987-2007. Compare that to a 21 percent increase in funding for higher education in the same twenty-year span.” In this scenario, the schools lose money and the government does not meet its quota. Yet this is not the case for government. In a capitalist economy, education does not bring in money and is last on the agenda on Capitol Hill.

One of the objectives of the school-to-prison pipeline system is to send students of color and of difference to jail during or after high school. The government uses the money from poorly performing schools that did not receive any funding. In turn, the government profits from the large amount of juvenile incarcerations. Education data collected by the U.S. Census and Vera Institute of Justice and compiled by Tal Yellin from CNN Money, shows the unequal correlation between the funds spent for public school students versus prisoners. The survey, completed by 40 states, shows that more money was spent on prisoners than students. In the data, the state of Pennsylvania spends around $12,000 per public school student, while the state spends over $40,000 per prisoner. The government contracts with certain corporations. Private prison companies such as the Corrections Corporation of America in Nashville, the GEO Group in Boca Raton, FL, and even universities such as Columbia University, hold shares within the stock market to build hundreds of privatized prisons a year. Information coming from the CCA’s website, on the board of directors of the CCA is CEOs from companies such as GENESCO and people such as Thurgood Marshall, Jr., the son of Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall.

The Huffington Post’s, “Mississippi School Discipline Too Harsh On Students: Report,” attests zero tolerance policies for infractions such as chewing gum and not wearing the school’s uniform. These punishable by expulsion and also involvement of law enforcement in some instances. In the editorial in “Rethinking Schools” magazine, George Galvis, an Oakland, Calif., African-American prison activist and youth organizer, described his first experience with police at his school, “I was 11. There was a fight and I got called to the office. The cop punched me in the face. I looked at my principal and he was just standing there, not saying anything. That totally broke my trust in school as a place that was safe for me.” The pipeline also targets students with emotional and intellectual disabilities who might have behavioral problems. A story from the same article chronicles the story of Cedrico Green. Green, Latino and now an adult, went through the juvenile system more than 30 times from eighth grade throughout high school in Jackson, Mississippi. He went through the courts for things such as wearing the wrong color socks to school. Upon completing probation, psychologists diagnosed Green with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.

The school-to-prison pipeline is a common and problematic issue within our educational and penal systems, since it is almost invisible to populations that are not affected by it, the severity of the situation is not common knowledge. Money and commerce are some of the reasons why bias in our school system lives on. The youth of color and difference that live each day from court case to court case because they threw a paper ball in the trashcan have no power. The structure of hierarchy places the white majority at the forefront, as seen through statistics.The majority in America’s school system have the resources to fund multiple prisons, where government funding is rooted,  and to disregard human life in order to continue to go to sleep at night.

If you wish to further this discussion, the CIASS office is located on the third floor of the Campus Center, room 308.