Three students sit in the back of the classroom.
Image Source: Sam Balye / Unsplash

Breaking the School-to-Prison Pipeline

School resource officers (SROs), law enforcement personnel that are responsible for safety and crime prevention in schools (Brookings), have been in schools since the 1950s. SROs were initially created to build rapport between local law enforcement and youth. These officers have the same training, the same capabilities, and the same resources as other members of the police or sheriff’s department – but their roles are more multifaceted, ranging from security to settling disputes, monitoring bus traffic, and even standing in for teachers and administrators (CNN). I couldn’t find hard data on this, but the National Association of School Resource Officers’ website says that most SROs are armed (NASRO).

The Columbine High School massacre in 1999 and the series of school shootings in this past decade justifiably prompted schools across the U.S. to increase their SRO staffing. This initiative grew alongside growing fears of crime in communities across the U.S. (Vox). As a result, districts adopted policies that took drastic action against any form of disorderly conduct, even those that might not call for that level of escalation (Learning for Justice). 

TAKE ACTION

• Efforts to remove police officers from schools are happening in cities across the country. Search to see whether those conversations are happening in your community and how you can support (whether signing a petition, making calls, etc.).

Sign the petition to end restraint and isolation tactics from being used in classrooms.

• Reflect: How would your life be different if you were arrested at 12 years old?

This led to a significant jump in expulsions and suspensions, particularly for Black youth. Black students are three times more likely to be suspended or expelled than white students, and 48% of preschool children suspended more than once are Black. Students with disabilities are also more likely to be suspended or expelled (Vox). School expulsions and suspensions are usually decided by the school administration, not law enforcement. But students are likely to experience the criminal legal system if they’re not in the classroom. When compounded with police intervention in school, it’s all the more likely these students will be criminalized.

During this time, more schools also invested in school resource officers,” actual police stationed to work in schools. SROs have the ability to arrest students and send them to juvenile courts, directly introducing them to the criminal legal system. A study from 2009 found that schools with officers present had five times the amount of arrests for disorderly conduct as schools without them (Vox). And students with disabilities make up 32 percent of youth in juvenile detention centers (Learning for Justice). 14 student arrests at Louisiana’s Southwood High School were led by an SRO, who even called for backup to handle disorder at the school (AP).

Beyond the impact of being arrested and/or incarcerated, exposure to police officers is proven to harm Black youth. A study from earlier this year indicates that increased police exposure is correlated with experiencing mental health issues like anxiety or depression and an increase in risky physical behaviors (JAMA). There are some incredible community-based initiatives organized to help reduce reliance on policing.

Dads on Duty is a group of fathers in Shreveport, Louisiana, who take shifts to visit school campuses and connect with their children and their peers. Participants of the Dads on Duty program noted the additional positive benefits of having dads on campus. For CBS News, a student mentioned that “they just make funny jokes like, ‘Oh, hey, your shoe is untied,’ but it’s really not untied,” bringing some good-old dad jokes into the day. Initiatives like this can reduce police presence on campus, not just avoiding arrests due to violence but minimizing the opportunity for negative interactions.


KEY TAKEAWAYS

• The school-to-prison pipeline introduces students to the criminal legal system, affecting their mental health, academic potential, and livelihoods.

• Community-driven alternatives to policing can help reduce our reliance on law enforcement.

• Disproportionate policing against communities of color is happening both generally and in classrooms.

• Removing police officers from schools can help to disrupt the school-to-prison pipeline.

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