The school-to-prison pipeline too often places young people into a hamster’s spinning wheel. According to the Department of Justice, suspension from school diminishes a student’s chance to graduate from high school and increases a student’s chance at entering the juvenile justice system. The rollercoaster halts only when interrupted by a young person’s confrontation with adult criminal courts. In my opinion, a balanced approach, reconfigured to critique public education alongside youth correctional facilities, will more fully develop our understanding of the problem and assist in crafting holistic solutions. Children should not suffer undue trauma associated with adjudication, the “delinquent” label, and separation from supportive family and community networks.
The school-to-prison pipeline literature places a heavy onus upon public schools to reform internal policies—scholars focus heavily on prevention at the schoolhouse level. Important questions reside within this realm. School policies, implicit bias, and operational protocols need to change in order to avoid irrational disciplinary action. On the other hand, as to children formally detained and removed from their families and community, there needs to be a clear path to reentry into society. Now, a juvenile offender detained in a government facility may be, upon release, unable to return to school with no one dedicated to supporting their attempt to graduate from a public education. Social justice principles grounded in the law suggest that advocates may simultaneously pursue a more panoramic reform agenda.