School-to-Prison Pipeline Study

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Through a grant from the Spencer Foundation, Vera’s Center on Youth Justice (CYJ) is studying how school disciplinary practices—in particular zero-tolerance policies—and other aspects of school climate affect juveniles. The study aims to contribute evidence-based analysis to the public debate over whether harsh school disciplinary protocols push youth toward antisocial and criminal behavior and justice system involvement—a trajectory known as the “school-to-prison pipeline.”

This work, begun in January 2012, seeks to fill a critical gap in the body of research on the influence of school climate and punitive disciplinary policies on young people’s delinquency and long-term criminal justice involvement. The widespread adoption of such policies since the late 1980s—including mandatory expulsions for certain infractions, the presence of police officers in schools, and higher levels of collaboration between schools and juvenile justice agencies—has increased the need for research into their effects.

Using data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health)—a nationally representative study of adolescents in grades 7 to 12 in the United States during the 1994-95 school year—CYJ researchers are exploring how disciplinary policies and other school climate factors are related to delinquency, crime, and justice system involvement over the short and long term. They are also examining how these characteristics of schools interact with other influences on youth—such as family, peers, and community—to affect these outcomes. Add Health provides a unique opportunity to draw on data on a large scope of topics, including school practices and youth behavior, from the perspective of youth, parents, and school administrators.

Why study school disciplinary practices?

Harsh disciplinary practices operate on a punitive continuum that often leads to removing youth either temporarily or permanently from school, thus contributing to higher dropout rates and diminished educational, social, and civic opportunities. If these practices that marginalize young people push them toward a greater probability of delinquency and crime, they in effect form a “school-to-prison pipeline” that propels youth into the juvenile and adult justice systems. Studies have shown that students suspended or expelled from school under zero-tolerance policies are more likely to be arrested within one year than those not subjected to such punishments. Vera’s study will contribute the kind of rigorous, longitudinal research needed to clarify how school policies influence crime and delinquency outcomes in both the short and long term.

For more information, contact CYJ director Annie Salsich.

A Generation Later: What We've Learned about Zero Tolerance in Schools
12/11/2013
Zero tolerance discipline policies that mandate suspension or expulsion of students for misconduct have gained tremendous momentum over the past 25 years while also inviting deep controversy. With A Generation Later: What We’ve Learned about Zero Tolerance in Schools, Vera’s Center on Youth Justice...
Michael Jacobson Testimony on "Ending the School-to-Prison Pipeline" to U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary
12/12/2012
Vera Institute of Justice President and Director Michael Jacobson submitted written testimony to a hearing titled “Ending the School-to-Prison Pipeline,” held on December 12, 2012 by the U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary, Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights, chaired...
04/11/2014
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Analysis of new data from the United States Department of Education Office for Civil Rights—collected from each of the nation’s 97,000 public schools—paints a troubling picture of unequal access to preschool, disparate teacher pay and quality, and students unprepared for college and a career. For...
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05/30/2013
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Earlier this month, Georgia Governor Nathan Deal signed into law HB 242—a complete rewrite of the state’s juvenile code. The revisions, which emerged from a multi-year reform process and were passed unanimously in the state House and Senate, represent a fundamental shift in the philosophy that...
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05/30/2013
Posted by
Earlier this month, Georgia Governor Nathan Deal signed into law HB 242—a complete rewrite of the state’s juvenile code. The revisions, which emerged from a multi-year reform process and were passed unanimously in the state House and Senate, represent a fundamental shift in the philosophy that...
Read more
12/12/2012
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Michael Jacobson, Vera’s president and director, submits testimony today at a hearing titled “Ending the School-to-Prison Pipeline,” held by the U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary, Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights, chaired by Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois. The...
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10/25/2012
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In August, I commented here about the U.S. Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division putting school officials in Lauderdale County, Mississippi and the city of Meridian on notice that they were “repeatedly and routinely” violating the Fourth, Fifth and 14th Amendment rights of schoolchildren. At...
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