School-to-prison pipeline threatens St.Louis youth


Studies show disproportionate school discipline threatens youth and promotes incarceration. Photo provided by

St. Louis leads the nation in school suspensions for black students.

School disciplinary actions, like suspensions and expulsions, may lead students onto a track of dropping out of school and ending up in the justice system. This track is called the school-to-prison pipeline.

A study from the Civil Rights Project at UCLA revealed Missouri schools, in the 2011-2012 school year, had the widest gap between suspension rates of black and white students in the country. Several reports and studies have concentrated on Missouri’s education and justice system since then.

According to the American Civil Liberties Union Missouri’s (ACLUMO) 2018 report, “Disproportionate school discipline in Missouri is costly, unconstitutional, and funnels children out of school and into the criminal justice system.”

In Missouri, according to ACLUMO’s 2018 report, black students are 4.5 times more likely to be suspended than white students. Black students with disabilities are three times more likely to be suspended than white students with disabilities.

Black male students are four times more likely to receive out-of-school suspension than white male students. Black female students are six times more likely to receive out-of-school suspension than white female students.

According to the U.S. Department of Education, nationally, during the 2015–16 school year, black students represented 15 percent of the total student enrollment, and 31 percent of students who were referred to law enforcement or arrested.

Missouri, being one of 19 states to still allow corporal punishment, has reports of black students being twice as likely to be hit in school than their white peers according to ACLUMO and volume 30 of the Social Policy Report.

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Teaching Tolerance program, the more a student is exposed to punishment and disciplinary action in school, the more prone he or she is to going to prison.

The pipeline is furthered by implicit bias. Georgetown Law Center on Poverty and Inequality reported data to support the theory of adultification. Its data shows that adults view black female students as less innocent and more adult-like than their white peers, especially in the age range of five–14.

They explained, “The perception of black girls as less innocent may contribute to harsher punishment by educators and school resource officers. Furthermore, the view that black girls need less nurturing, protection and support and are more independent may translate into fewer leadership and mentorship opportunities in schools.”

Research by Indiana University’s Professor Phillip Goff revealed black male student are more likely than their white peers to be misperceived as older, viewed as guilty of suspected crimes and face police violence if accused of a crime after they reach 10 years old.

Zero-tolerance policies create a pointed pathway to prison. Zero-tolerance policies were created by the Reagan Administration as apart of the Drug Free Schools and Campuses Act of 1989. The policies were extended as a part of the Gun Free Schools Act of 1994 and have continually extended to more violations, both minor and major.

Now, schools holding Zero Tolerance Policies push harsh disciplinary actions on all violations. According to Dr. Christopher A. Mallett, a professor at Cleveland State University, “The increased use of zero tolerance policies … in the schools has exponentially increased arrests and referrals to the juvenile courts.”

Not only are these practices discriminatory, they’re also costly. According to Quality Counts 2018 and the Missouri Department of Social Studies, the government spends an average of $11,558 for one year of public schooling per Missouri student versus $82,260 for one year of juvenile detention.

From 1979 to 2012, Missouri’s expenditures on state and local corrections ballooned over 183 percent more than the state’s expenditures on pre-K-12 education grew in the same time period according to ACLUMO.

Dr. Sharonica Hardin- Bartley, University City Superintendent, addressed how discipline enables the pipeline in an interview with ACLUMO, saying, “Our practices must be more restorative in nature. The punitive measures simply do not work. They fail miserably.”

Some districts have taken the same outlook and sought reform. In 2016, St. Louis Public Schools banned out-of-school suspensions for children in preschool through second grade. Bans on preschool through third grade suspensions were made by Maplewood-Richmond Heights School District in 2017 and Ladue School District and Normandy School District in 2018.

Local programs like Shut It Down, spearheaded by SLU professor Norm White to work with educators to “create healthy learning environments that celebrate all of our children and nourish their social, emotional, and cognitive development,” have began to pop up to counteract the pipeline’s progress. Similar programs, like Break the Pipeline campaign, have orchestrated protests and meetings.

Hardin-Bartley concluded, “You can’t have this conversation without being brutally honest about where we are. We can do better by black and brown children, and those are the children that are most adversely impacted by our discipline decisions.”

Trinity Madison- Business/ Advertisement Manager

This is Senior Trinity Madison’s first year on ECHO staff. She now serves as Advertising / Business Manager after a year of training and contributory writing in journalism class.

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Categories: Features

1 reply

  1. I remember writing this. This information is still relevant. My education department courses have brought this issue up!

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