School to Prison Pipeline

26 10 2007

In its preliminary shadow report of the United States compliance with an international treaty on ending racial discrimination, the American Civil Liberties Union summarized the “school to prison pipeline” in very succinct and sobering terms.

The “school to prison pipeline,” a disturbing national trend, refers to the increasingly widespread practice of funneling primarily children of color out of public schools and into the juvenile and criminal justice systems. These are often children with learning disabilities or histories of poverty, abuse or neglect. Rather than addressing their needs through additional educational services, they are isolated and punished.

Policy trends responsible for this problem include “zero-tolerance” policies criminalizing minor instances of school misconduct; schools increasingly ignoring due process protections for these children, expelling them from public schools and placing them in alternative schools and detention facilities; and policy initiatives including the federal No Child Left Behind Act that place an undue emphasis on ‘high stakes testing,’ providing schools the incentive to push out low performing students.

For example, in the Winner school district in South Dakota, middle and high schools disproportionately punish Native American students for alleged misconduct. Native American students, many with learning disabilities, are 3 times more likely than Caucasian students to be suspended and more than 10 times more likely to be arrested for school misconduct.

Over one-third of the Native American students will be suspended, and roughly 1 in every 7 Native children will be arrested for violating a school disciplinary rule, in any year. Native children who defend themselves against racial harassment by Caucasian children are routinely arrested.

The U.S. report, by contrast, barely mentioned the school to prison phenomenon.

To read the U.S. report on its compliance with the CERD click here.

To read the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD) click here.

Click here to read the rest of the ACLU report.

Update: Learn more about the school to prison pipeline Legal Defense Fund’s site by clicking here. Learn about the ACLU’s campaign against the school to prison pipeline by clicking here.

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