Now that school in the US is officially underway for everyone, whether you’re in kindergarten or grad school, I wanted to take this time to highlight an issue that affects many students in the country. This issue has been going on for decades, and it has yet to be completely taken care of, so I thought it would be best to bring this issue to light in hopes that a meaningful dialogue will be opened.
The school to prison pipeline is in our schools, and it has very real repercussions.
For those of you who aren’t yet familiar with the term, the school to prison pipeline refers to policies and practices that push back young students from schools and into the system of criminal justice. You may have heard that prisons base their future needs off the literacy of third grade students, but it is so much more than that. This system has a few levels, and they affect us today.
The school to prison pipeline starts in public schools. These schools are often underfunded, and have few resources. Put that with the need for security and such in inner-city spaces (read: predominantly minority areas), we create a weird mutualistic relationship. If you aren’t aware of this by now, people make money from filling up prisons. Many prisons now are for- profit, and there is a need to meet a quota. This leads to the over-policing of people, which leads to the many instances of police brutality that we see today. Of the people who are targeted, children are one of the easiest targets, as they are seen as having no rights, many of them have no knowledge of their rights, and people are more likely to believe their superiors. This is increased when the cops face minority students, as the power dynamic is far too great.
The school to prison pipeline comes from the days of Jim Crow, and the desire to keep “good schools” separate from “bad schools.” This is a part of housing reform, and the practices put in place to keep schools predominantly white, and therefore inherently better. Those other schools became known to lack resources, teachers, and the like, often resulting in the intellectual inadequacy of many children of color.
So what are some of the ways that students are policed and placed into this pipeline at school?
There are a few ways. One way is the use of the zero tolerance policies that have been employed by many students. While it does show the desire to not put up with infractions, it leaves no room for possible understanding and consideration. As a result, many students get in trouble for reasons as silly as them bringing scissors to school. According to the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) “Rates of suspension have increased dramatically in recent years—from 1.7 million in 1974 to 3.1 million in 2000 (3) — and have been most dramatic for children of color.”
Another way students are placed through this pipeline is the use of these security guards aforementioned. These security guards often are poorly trained, and given the task of handling misconduct issues to free up more times for the teachers. As a result, these students are often over-policed, especially students of color. These students then have no ability to speak for themselves, and are given harsh fines that they cannot pay, which results in their arrest, or they are immediately sent to the juvenile system.
These students are then put into the juvenile records, making it difficult for them to come bac and return to most public schools and such, and as a result, they discontinue their schooling. When students have free time and no positive reinforcements, they face many mental health issues, like depression and often then turn to crime because they see themselves as criminals.
Why is this important today?
We live in a world where a young boy can be arrested for doing something you would see at a state science level. He built a clock. Yet because these officials “believed” it was a clock, he was arrested in his own school. He now faces possible charges of making a bomb. It. Is. A. Clock. I would love to turn my head away, and pretend like it didn’t happen, but the fact that Ahmed Mohamed is a Muslim and a person of color automatically puts him in the category of being eligible for the school to prison pipeline. This young boy now has to go through the effort of getting a lawyer and fighting possible charges that arise, all the while, he still isn’t getting that in-class experience he was receiving before. This boy was targeted for something due to racism and Islamophobia, and arguing otherwise is ignoring the deliberate history behind it. I hope that Ahmed will get justice, and I also hope that this will bring about many other cases like Ahmed’s and allow us to question what we are doing to our children.