In These Times reports on the “school-to-prison pipeline,” the subject of a Senate hearing last month. With more than 3 million students suspended or expelled each year, U.S. schools are “increasingly a gateway to the criminal justice system,” according to Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.), who convened the hearing. Activists warn that the trend exacerbates the racial disparities in prisons. A 2010 study found that black middle-school students are three to four times more likely to be suspended than whites. Experts blame school disciplinary policies that criminalize students but fail to address root causes of behavioral problems.
The trend is linked to zero-tolerance school policies adopted during the 1990s, prompted in part by a series of school shootings and a media narrative fixated on youth violence. The policies can lead to arrests and referrals to juvenile courts. They can also isolate and exclude struggling students, through out-of-school suspensions and high-stakes testing.