Law Enforcement Officers, Students, and the
School-to-Prison Pipeline: A Longitudinal

Jason P. Nance & Michael Heise 

Recent data indicate that a majority of schools now have regular contact with law enforcement officers, transforming the educational experience for hundreds of thousands of students nationwide. The proper role of police officers in schools, if any, has been hotly debated for years. But this debate
was elevated to an unprecedented level during the summer of 2020 following the tragic deaths of George Floyd and others, precipitating national calls to “defund the police” and leading many school districts to reconsider their relationships with law enforcement agencies. This debate over whether police officers belong in schools continues today. While proponents argue that a police presence is necessary to keep students safe, the existing empirical literature assessing the efficacy of school police officer programs in creating safe environments is mixed, at best. The legal and policy implications for
students, however, are more established. An increased law enforcement presence in schools has tightened the intersection between schools and the criminal justice system, a phenomenon known as the “school-to-prison pipeline,” and can lead to severe outcomes for students.

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