Incarcerate or education

Are our children being pushed into prison?

Carla St.Louis | 1/30/2014, 9 a.m.
In 1993, Debra Mayes Pane witnessed a phenomenon that changed the course of her professional career. While teaching at Teaching ...

In 1993, Debra Mayes Pane witnessed a phenomenon that changed the course of her professional career.

While teaching at Teaching and Rehabilitating Our Youth (TROY), she first experienced the “revolving door,” a trend in which Black students were continually cycled in and out of school and court because teachers constantly “kicked [Black] kids out of class.”

Pane never experienced this trend with her white students.

Her experience led her to start a non-profit organization, Eradicating the School-to-Prison Pipeline Foundation (E-SToPP), dedicated to developing quality and equitable high schools and educational programs for youth who have been suspended, expelled or incarcerated.

“I believe that with a concerted effort among all stakeholders in the community, we can transform the educational outcomes and ultimately the lives of disenfranchised youth in the school-to-prison pipeline,” said Pane. “[Through E-SToPP] we hope to transform public schools and juvenile justice schools so that those who have been suspended, expelled or incarcerated can successfully reenter school, family, community and society.” 

What is the school-to-prison pipeline?

The school-to-prison pipeline is a cycle of exclusionary discipline that removes students from classrooms through a series of acts that lead to adult prison.

The term was coined in 2003 when a theme linking school discipline and juvenile justice data emerged during a joint research conference co-sponsored by the Civil Project and Northeastern University’s Institute on Race and Justice.

Based on the trajectory, a Black male student is more likely to be reprimanded at a severe rate than his white peers. A teacher's first response in stopping a perceived disruptive behavior starts with a referral, an act that's subjective and studies show, based increasingly on race.

If the ‘disruption’ continues, said student will receive further discipline in the form of a suspension. An option that regularly leads to poor performance within school (due to missing days). The student lags behind scholastically while trying to meet his class’ learning curve.

The teacher may now equate the student’s ‘bad behavior’ with ‘bad learner’ and develops a classroom bias towards him.

The youth, in turn internalizes those beliefs and subsequently loses interest in school altogether succumbing to dropping out or expulsion to an alternative school.

If the child feels the same experience will occur in an alternative school, he is likely to drop out of the education system and resort to a life of crime.

Thus, turning him into a criminal who has already been institutionalized and readied for the prison industrial complex system.

First-hand encounter of the school-to-prison pipeline

Amir Whitaker’s first experience with the school-to-prison pipeline occurred when he was in second grade.

“I was suspended from my 2nd grade class after someone wrote a curse word on my paper,” said Whitaker. “Even though my parents vouched for me and told my teacher it wasn’t my handwriting, I was still suspended.”

By middle school Whitaker was regularly being suspended for fights and it eventually escalated into expulsion from his high school during his junior year.

Faced with attending an alternative high school, he folded but soon discovered the work was “remedial” and decided to drop out of the education system.