Black Lives Matter and the School- to -Prison Pipeline – Current Connections 4

In his piece, The School- to – Prison Pipeline: A Critical Review of the Punitive Paradigm Shift,  Christopher Mallett goes into depth about the disciplinary measures used in schools. He implements a variety of real-life examples, and detailed descriptions to emphasize the ideas and concepts discussed in his work. Mallett underscores what these discipline tactics are, how they came about, and how they are affecting schools and students. 

Mallett begins by identifying that schools and courts were never meant to be interconnected, but a variety of factors have led to this relationship. He defines the school-to-prison pipeline as “a set of policies and practices in schools that make it more likely that students face criminal involvement with juvenile courts than attain a quality education” (Mallett, 2016). Schools have long focused on control and discipline of young adults , but as student population increased and the effect corporal punishment had decreased, these educational facilities began to buckle down on their punishments. In the 1980’s youth violence was disproportionately advertised, leading to more severe consequences for students. Children were being tried as adults and less rehabilitation alternatives were being used. This tough on crime movement relied on the idea that young people are becoming increasingly dangerous. School shootings made the push for safer schools because they provoked fear. These crimes typically happened in communities that are deemed “safe,” and despite their rare occurrences, this fact made people even more afraid for the safety of schools, thus leading to stricter disciplinary measures. 

The Gun-Free Schools Act gave each facility the okay to incorporate zero tolerance policies. This act led to other amendments that further broadened the focus of these policies to other weapons, not just guns, and even violent and non-violent acts, funneling mostly non-harmful students into the pipeline. Zero tolerance policies essentially mean that a child who goes against the schools rules must suffer severe predetermined punishments. These became nationally recognized during the war on drugs as a means to keep drugs out of schools. Zero tolerance policies often lead to suspension, expulsion, or worse disciplinary consequences that would remove a child from the school environment. They are reinforced by security guards, metal detectors, and police officers that are found in many school buildings. The No Child Left Behind Act attempted to juxtapose these zero tolerance policies by holding schools accountable for their actions. However, this only led to a focus on testing which as we learned from Kortez in chapter 7 of his book, The Testing Charade: Pretending to Make Schools Better, this type of educational experience is not beneficial for students. On top of these issues, the implementation of school resource officers has only been a main contributor to these problems. There has been less funding put towards the actual education of students and more towards the SROs. These individuals are not under the authority of the school or anyone who works there, which can make their reign even more difficult to control. They have done more harm than good by involving students in the pipeline for non-serious crimes. 

A variety of students are impacted by these factors, thus funneling them into the school-to-prison pipeline; however, those that are economically disinclined and others that are a part of minority groups seem to suffer the most. These have, in fact ,played a role in the resegregation of educational facilities. Most of the measures taken to make schools safer are implemented in schools that harbor lower-class and/or minority students. Mallet points out the large impact this is having on the African American pupils, compared to their caucasian peers. These disciplinary tactics can bring about a feeling of safety, but in the wrong environment and with too much force, students are less inclined to focus on academics, gain a sense of distrust of authority figures, and can restrict young adults socially and economically. These policies and tactics are not effective, making these punishments that are supposed to better society fall in vain. Mallett concludes his article on a positive note claiming that social workers may be the key to help fix this horrible structure of the school system. By advocating for a better educational system, Mallett shows his ideological perspective as for students’ academic and future success. He is trying to identify what is wrong to push for a better tomorrow for these children that must suffer from sometimes childish mistakes. In addition, his acknowledgement of the struggle for certain economic classes or minority groups shows that he carries a more liberal perspective, as well. 

I agree with Mallet’s frustration towards the school system. I feel that this article, as well as our class discussions have shown me how broken our educational facilities are. Students deserve the right to feel welcome at their schools and not as if they are prisoners that have not been locked up yet. I have not experienced these harsh disciplinary measures myself, nor have I known someone who has. At my high school, we had two SRO’s. They were relatively nice people who usually did not bother the students unless an act of violence was committed. However, I will recognize that I went to a school that is  primarily white and middle-class so my experience is different from others, especially those of minority groups. I believe we had zero tolerance policies for a variety of mistakes, wrong doings, and illegal actions; however, my school usually did not enforce these ideas. Most students merely received detentions and sometimes suspensions. Expulsion was almost unheard of. There needs to be a different way for students to be dealt with, rather than treating them like puppies that are in need of training. These disciplinary measures may have begun as a means to ensure safety; however, now they seem to be a push for control and military-like school systems which deeply saddens me. The idea that social workers will be the saving grace in this situation brings me hope; however, I recognize that this line of work also needs to be improved in order to better work with students, especially those that are mentally ill or wronged by society.

For my current connection this week I read the article, “Watch now: Decatur justice walk addresses school-to-prison pipeline,” by Analisa Trofimuk. This piece was published in the Herald Review and helped to connect the School-to-prison pipeline and the current black lives matter movement. Trofimuk detailed a justice walk that occurred in Decatur, Illinois. The people who took part in the protest were enraged BLM supporters. Their anger was generated because the Keil building, where school board members and administrator’s meetings are held, was shut down for a day. On this particular day, they were supposed to discuss the school-to-prison pipeline. With this pipeline having a large effect on the African American population, many took to the streets in support of a better educational system. Some supporters held signs that demanded the removal of the police from schools, and more funding funneled into actual academics, rather than a stronger police force. The article offers a variety of solutions to this issue which I discussed with my peers. The piece connects to Mallett’s work because both identify the strong negative impact these disciplinary efforts are having on people of color, thus furthering their societal struggle.

For my current connections presentation this week, I used Google slides and provided my classmates with a variety of quotes from Trofimuk’s article, as well as other visuals and asked them a series of questions. With the first quote, we delved into the idea that ‘“Black lives can’t matter until Black students matter”’ (Trofimuk, 2020) Through discussion, I found that my classmates could not decide if this statement was valid or not. Many identified that racial problems begin in the classroom, but this does not mean young African American students are the only ones who struggle. For the most part, we concluded that both students and adults hold equal parts in this fight for equality. After the discussion of this quote, I showed a short clip of a video entitled School to Prison Pipeline made by Ted Talks. In this section, a young African American boy spoke about his experience in school and the maltreatment and wrongful use of disciplinary actions against people of his race. While searching for this video, I found that not a lot of sources held information about how students felt about the school-to-prison-pipeline and how they thought it should be remedied. With this in mind, I questioned whether students should be more involved. Just like me, my classmates were appalled by the mistreatment of students described in the video and some reevaluated their answer to the last inquiry and decided that students should hold a higher importance in the BLM movement. This question was still up in the air for a solid solution, but it was agreed upon that students should have a more prevalent role in this fight. They should be asked how they interpret these issues because they are directly involved and deserve the right to be let in on this protest.

The next quote we discussed detailed how the school in Decatur claimed to have no comment on the march. I asked if this was the right move and I was met with a resounding “no.” I strongly agree with my classmates’ perspective on this topic. I believe the school should have said something about the march. I would even go as far to urge the district to show support for this peaceful protest. This would show that they will fight for their students and help to make improvements in their favor because they truly value their academic experience and are not just looking to control these young adults. Furthermore, the next series of quotes were made by the police officers in the town. They urged the public to not defund the police, rather provide them funding to get better resources to help with mental health. The police chief recognized that the officers should not take on the role of psychologists, counselors, or mental health workers, but should make improvements in order to better the situation that African Americans are forced to endure. I agree with my classmates’ decision to support the police officers’ opinions on this subject matter. Many spoke on the idea that these men and women do not have to undergo any long-term schooling like college and are usually simply taught to use violent tactics to subdue situations, rather than verbal consultations. This is not the type of training we need to bring into schools with children who are prone to making mistakes because they are young and human. Officers should not take on the aforementioned roles, but should make improvements in their tactics.

We concluded our discussion by analyzing this comic.

Mac identified that the book in this strip plays a key role to show the reality of this school-to-prison pipeline. The young African American boy depicted in the comic is not able to truly learn until he eventually is sent to jail. He is forced to find his own route for academics because the school system has failed him. This is unfortunately common in today’s society. The zero  tolerance policies and strict rules schools enforce work to actually create a barrier between students and their education. To wrap up my thoughts I sent my classmates an article by the National Education Association entitled, “Ending the School to Prison Pipeline.” This article summarized a lot of my ideas, as well as those found in Mallett’s piece and helped to encourage a change, as well as provide resources to push for this reform. 

I was very pleased with my current connection this week. I not only got to learn how the Black Lives Matter movement was directly linked to schools, but I also was able to engage in meaningful discussion with a variety of my classmates on these difficult subjects. I hope for a better future in education for all which will begin when these disciplinary efforts are put to rest and the educational experience is valued at a greater level. 


Ending the School-to-Prison Pipeline. NEA EdJustice. (2021, January 27).

Koretz, D. (2017). The testing charade: pretending to make schools better. Chapter 7, Test Prep. pp. 93-118. Chicago; London: The University of Chicago Press.

Mallett, C. (2016). The School-to-Prison Pipeline: A Critical Review of the Punitive Paradigm Shift. Child & Adolescent Social Work Journal, 33(1), 15–24.

TEDxTalks. (2017, January 11). School to Prison Pipeline | Youth for RISE Advocacy Network | TEDxYouth@RVA. YouTube.

Trofimuk, A. (2020, July 1). Watch Now: Decatur Justice Walk Addresses School-to-Prison Pipeline. Herald.

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