School-to-Prison Pipeline

The Problem

The so-called “school-to-prison pipeline” describes the pattern of events that push a student out of the classroom and into the juvenile justice system, and eventually to incarceration as an adult.

The Facts

The school-to-prison pipeline is a nationwide system of local, state and federal education and public policies that push students out of schools and into the criminal justice system. This pipeline disproportionately affects students of color and English Language Learners (ELL).

Factors in the school-to-prison pipeline:

–  Zero Tolerance Policies 1

Zero tolerance policies exist in part as reactionary policies to the rash of extremely rare school shootings that were sensationally covered by media. Therefore, these policies were created as a response to school violence. However:

  • Crimes committed against and by students have actually increased since zero tolerance policies were implemented.
  • Zero tolerance policies do not take into account individual circumstances. This means a minor offense can equal a severe punishment.
  • Zero tolerance polices put kids at a higher risk for suspension, expulsions and in-school arrests. This means they are at a higher risk for dropping out, not finishing school and ending up in jail instead of college or a job.
  • The more times a student is expended or expelled, the higher their chance of ending up in the criminal justice system.

–  Low Parental Involvement 2

  • Parental involvement is “significantly associated with lower rates of high school dropout, increased on-time high school completion, and highest grade completed.”
  • Family participation in education “was twice as predictive of students’ academic success as family socioeconomic status.”
  • Challenges to safety at home, working more than full-time (especially one-parent households) and not knowing about how to get involved all contribute to poor student performance.

– Racial Discrimination in Discipline

  • Black and Latino students are more likely to be disciplined for the exact same behavior of a white student. 3
  • In San Francisco, black students make up less than 12% of those enrolled
  • Black students also make up 60% of expelled students and more than 42% of out-of-school suspensions – six times the rate of white students.4
  • Hispanic or Black students make up 70% of in-school arrested or referred students.

– Inadequate School Resources

  • Cuts to basic education such as math, science, English and social studies reduce students’ ability to acquire basic skills needed for employment and further education
  • A lack of after school and summer programs mean many kids lose much of what they’ve learned in class, and are more prone to get into trouble
  • Punishing or ignoring special needs students and ELL students rather than staffing trained teachers who can help them succeed, leads to youth failing to finish school.

What can we do in our schools instead?

– Restorative Justice.

Restorative justice is the antidote to zero tolerance policies. It recognizes that there are real children and varying circumstances around issues that arise in school that cannot be addressed by simplistic, black-and-white rules. Restorative recognizes that parents, teachers and society as a whole would rather have children learn from their mistakes and receive tools to change their behavior in order to become functioning members of society. Instead, zero-tolerance policies push these same children out of schools with punitive methods that only serve to impede the childrens’ futures.

  • Restorative Justice: The Evidence, concluded in at least two trials, that when used as a diversion, restorative justice reduced violent re-offending, victim’s desire for revenge, and costs.
  • A 2007 University of Wisconsin study found that Barron County’s restorative justice program led to significant declines in youth violence, arrests, crime, and recidivism. Five years after the program began, violent juvenile offenses decreased almost 49%. Overall juvenile arrest rates decreased almost 45%. 5

– Strong Parental Involvement 6

  • The earlier in a child’s educational process parent involvement begins, the more powerful the effects.
  • The most effective forms of parent involvement are those which engage parents in working directly with their children on learning activities at home.
  • The most consistent predictors of children’s academic achievement and social adjustment are parent expectations of the child’s academic attainment and satisfaction with their child’s education at school.
  • Parents of high-achieving students set higher standards for their children’s educational activities than parents of low-achieving students.

The Solution

With a focus on breaking the school to prison pipeline, Unite for Students calls on the San Francisco Board of Education and the Superintendent of Schools, Richard Carranza, to focus on restorative justice over zero-tolerance; encourage parental involvement in schools; and ensure that all students have access to college and A-G counseling. The school-to-prison pipeline, which disproportionately affects SFUSD students of color, requires immediate action.

We urge the Board and Superintendent to:

  • Build on the success of pilot programs replacing zero-tolerance school discipline policies with restorative practices, such as the one at Rosa Parks Elementary led by Principal Paul Jacobsen. After implementing restorative justice in the 2011-2012 school year, he reduced suspensions from 20 in the previous year to three.
  • Continue to closely monitor the implementation of restorative practices in the district and ensure that it expands beyond the pilot schools into more schools in the district and particularly those in the eastern parts of the city.  Make this expansion a budget priority.
  • Involve parents and students to a greater extent as restorative practices continue expanding in the district to guarantee the program’s success.
  • Closely monitor the collection and reporting of data on suspensions and expulsions to ensure the transparency required by the restorative justice resolution from 2009 is achieved.
  • Decrease the presence of law enforcement at schools by relying more on district-trained, and district-hired staff instead of School Resource Officers.
  • Facilitate more resources and tools for parents on how to start PTAs and PTOs in their schools, and encourage their development.
  • Dedicate appropriate time to staff development training for teachers on ways to involve parents more in their child’s schools.
  • Ensure that school officials/administrators are linguistically and culturally competent and sensitive to the surrounding demographic and are available to assist and encourage parents to become more involved in their child’s schools.
  • Equitably and fully implement the A-G requirements to ensure that all students have the necessary knowledge and opportunity to sign up for these courses and that they are eligible to apply to the UC and CSU systems.
  • Educate both students and parents about the importance of enrolling in A-G courses and the college connection by making it district-wide policy that all incoming freshmen attend an “A-G” workshop and all juniors complete an “A-G” checklist during their second semester.
  • Designate one teacher for every grade level at every high school, as the point-person for college related questions/guidance.

We ask Superintendent Carranza to announce an initiative aimed at ending the school-to-prison pipeline with one or more of the above recommended policies, and to report back on the progress of that initiative by the end of the 2012-2013 school year.


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