The School-to-Prison Pipeline
Historical civil rights movements have fought against major problems of racism, such as slavery and segregation; however, racism has taken on many different forms in present day society. Although segregation and racial profiling no longer legally exist in America’s K-12 public school system, minority students now find themselves at risk of facing racial profiling inside the classroom. When being treated for misbehavior at school, oftentimes African American students face disproportionate odds of the severity of punishment mandated compared to students of white descent. According to Deborah N. Archer, professor of law at New York Law School, “African American students represented only 17% of public school enrollment nationwide, [yet] they accounted for 34% of school suspensions in 2000” (Archer). The school-to-prison pipeline is a caste-like complication of low budget funding in impoverished school districts, police presence in schools, and tough behavioral policies (like the zero tolerance policy) in the American public school system in which school administrations nationwide attempt to combat the occurrence of crime and violence at school. However, in their attempts, they have been shown to criminalize minority students through racial profiling and unjust punishment, leading them down a “pipeline” to diminished opportunities for education, further criminal behavior, and possible incarceration.
Even before the widespread tide of interest in behavior discipline by America’s education system in the 1990s, the zero tolerance policy was formed with the intent of “sending a message that certain behaviors will not be tolerated, by punishing all offenses severely, no matter how minor,” according to Indiana University’s Professor of Educational Psychology Russell J. Skiba (Skiba). The zero tolerance policy first gained recognition in 1986 as the title of a drug impoundment program in San Diego led by U.S. Attorney Peter Nunez. In 1988, zero tolerance was established as a national model and its power brought any suspect passing through customs with the slightest trace of drugs to federal court (Skiba). After its emergence, the concept of “zero tolerance” was transferred to many other unsolved issues of America’s society at the time, school violence being one. In 1989, public school districts in California, Kentucky, and New York authorized expulsion in the event of drug possession, gang activity, and fighting. Later, in 1994, the policies spread across American school districts and the Clinton Administration even signed the Gun Free Schools Act of 1994, a form of this policy that raises controversy due to its manipulation and lengthening of the definition to prohibit “any instrument that may be used as a weapon,” (Skiba). According to a report by Youth United for Change and the Advancement project, Robert, an 11 year old African American boy was “arrested, suspended, and transferred to a disciplinary school” for accidentally forgetting to take out his Boy Scout pocket knife from a pair of dirty pants that he quickly threw on for school (Rethinking Schools). From the moment Robert’s pocket knife fell out of his pants while running in gym class, even after voluntary cooperation and confessing to school authorities, Robert became a victim of racial profiling and the zero tolerance policy’s controversial power. The zero tolerance policy remains one of the most prevalent forms of racial profiling and one of the leading causes of the school-to-prison pipeline in public schools today. Unfortunately, combating the modern form of racial profiling involved in the school-to-prison pipeline has faced difficulties from the United States Supreme Court. Although many claim that the zero tolerance disciplinary policies violate the constitutional rights of students, U.S. courts remain submissive toward the jurisdiction schools have to enforce disciplinary action (Aull IV). Even though African American...
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