What is the School-to-Prison Pipeline?

Race & Racism
Juvenile Detention Center 460
Stuart Alphine / CC BY 2.0
Grade Level:
High School
Common Core Standards:
Reading, Speaking and Listening, Language
Race & Racism

In 2015, a video of a rough takedown and arrest, in which a police officer (referred to in schools as “School Resource Officer”) in a South Carolina school flips over a high school student and her desk, has brought the “School-to-Prison Pipeline” topic into the headlines. The School-to-Prison Pipeline refers to the school policies and procedures that drive many of our nation’s schoolchildren into a pathway that begins in school and ends in the criminal justice system. 

Behavior that once led to a trip to the principal’s office and detention, such as school uniform violations, profanity and “talking back,” now often leads to suspension, expulsion, and/or arrest. Data from the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights shows that black students are suspended and expelled at a rate three times greater than their white peers. Similarly, students with disabilities are more than twice as likely to receive out-of-school suspensions as students with no disabilities and LGBTQ youth are much more likely than their peers to be suspended or expelled.

This lesson provides an opportunity for students to understand more about the School-to-Prison Pipeline, learn about its history and evolution and begin to plan some activities to teach others about it and take action.

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