SOLUTION: HI 230 OLLU The Rise in Juvenile Detention Rates in The United States Essay

Correctional Education Association
Developing the Prison-to-School Pipeline: A Paradigmatic Shift in Educational Possibilities
During an Age of Mass Incarceration
Author(s): DeWitt Scott
Source: Journal of Correctional Education (1974-) , Vol. 68, No. 3 (December 2017), pp. 4152
Published by: Correctional Education Association
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The Journal of Correctional Education 68(3) • December 2017
Developing the Prison-to-School Pipeline:
A Paradigmatic Shift in Educational
Possibilities During an Age of
Mass Incarceration
DeWitt Scott
Explosions in America’s incarceration rates have sparked critical examinations of
root causes of entry into the criminal justice system. Researchers have predominantly
focused on what is known as the school-to-prison pipeline. Solutions have centered
on revising school policies and practices targeting certain students for disciplinary
sanctions leading to a pattern of discrimination in school suspensions and expulsions.
As a shift in perspective, this article explores helping ex-offenders access formal
education post-incarceration. Research on the school-to-prison pipeline and
correctional education contextualizes the concept of intentionally creating a prison-toschool pipeline to reduce recidivism and improve ex-offender employability, selfesteem, and productivity.
Keywords: school-to-prison pipeline, correctional education, criminal justice,
social justice, recidivism, mass incarceration
School-to-Prison Pipeline
America’s incarceration rate over the past four decades has accelerated at levels
incomparable to any other nation, developed or otherwise, around the world
(Alexander, 2010; Halkovic, 2014; Hall, 2015; Larson, 2015; Meiners, 2011; Nally,
Lockwood, Knuston, & Ho, 2012; Schept, Wall, & Brisman, 2015; Scott, 2016).
Despite possessing only 5% of the world’s population, the United States is home
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The Journal of Correctional Education 68(3) • December 2017
Developing Prison-to-School Pipeline
DeWitt Scott
to 25% of the world’s prison population, or over two million people (Meiners,
2011). 4.9 million people, or 3% of America’s adult population, are under some
form of parole or probation (Halkovic, 2014). Such alarming numbers have caused
scholars to ask critical questions about the nation’s criminal justice system,
policing tactics, and social service programs aimed at helping one of society’s
most vulnerable populations (Alexander, 2010; Meiners, 2011). Conclusions
from such research have stated that the escalation in incarceration rates is not
at all coincidental. It is, in fact, the result of a systematic construction of policies,
ideologies, and law enforcement practices that target very specific groups
of people (minorities, poor, uneducated) (Alexander, 2010; Cregor & Hewitt,
2011; Goss, 2015; Meiners, 2011; Schept et al., 2015; Snapp, Hoenig, Fields, &
Russell, 2015). Continuous and relentless imprisonment of select populations
serves the purpose of maintaining a perverse social order in which a small
population of American society benefits economically, socially, and politically
from the imprisonment of the nation’s poor, uneducated, underserved minorities.
Researchers, activists, and social justice advocates have termed this current
carceral reality the prison industrial complex (Alexander, 2010; Meiners, 2011).
As analysis of the prison industrial complex has become more prevalent,
researchers began to draw a connection between the criminal justice system
and the nation’s K–12 education system (Fader, Lockwood, Schall, & Stokes,
2014; Halkovic, 2014; Mallett, 2014; Meiners, 2011, Schept et al., 2015). It became
clear that a collection of policies instituted in the public education sphere—
particularly urban public schools—was having a direct impact on not only the
number but the racial and class backgrounds of future prisoners as well (Cregor
& Hewitt, 2011; Goss, 2015; Halkovic 2014; Meiners, 2011). This school-to-prison
pipeline has been defined as “a complex network of relations that naturalize
the movement of youth of color from our schools and communities into . . .
permanent detention” (Meiners, 2011, p. 550).
Origins of the school-to-prison pipeline are often traced back to the creation
of zero-tolerance policies in America’s schools, beginning in the 1990s (Cregor
& Hewitt, 2011; Schept et al., 2015; Snapp et al., 2015). As school leaders and
policymakers professed a desire to make schools safer, the number of offenses
for which students could be punished increased while the penalties for these
offenses became much harsher. School environments also began to become
more militarized. Schept et al. (2015) describes how at one high school in
New Orleans, students encounter metal detectors, 30-plus security guards,
multiple New Orleans Police Department Officers, handheld metal scanners,
bag searches, and security “sweeps” (p. 100). These punitive and increasingly
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The Journal of Correctional Education 68(3) • December 2017
DeWitt Scott
Developing Prison-to-School Pipeline
normalized practices have had an adverse affect, particularly on African
American boys and other minority, poor, and non-gender conforming students,
that is documentable, leading to increased detention, suspension, and expulsion
rates of poor, minority, and LGBTQ populations (Cregor & Hewitt, 2011; Goss,
2015; Meiners, 2011; Schept et al., 2015; Snapp et al., 2015).
Research has shown that school suspension and expulsion, the most
dramatic punishments available in an educational setting, are clear indicators
of future under-education, unemployment, and incarceration (Meiners, 2011).
As minority students face intensifying sanctions for unacceptable behavior—
behavior that is typically assessed through subjective lenses—these students are
inevitably headed toward a future of increased probability of arrest, conviction,
and incarceration. This is the core process that creates the school-to-prison
pipeline (Cregor & Hewitt, 2011; Meiners, 2011).
Research-Based Solutions
Strategies for dismantling the school-to-prison pipeline vary to the degree
of the number of researchers and sociologists who study the subject. With
the large majority of scholars believing that the root cause of the pipeline is
racist, discriminatory, and ineffective school policies, hypothesized solutions
often start at the school level (Cregor & Hewitt, 2011; Goss, 2015; Meiners,
2011; Schept et al., 2015; Snapp et al., 2015). Adjustments in responses to
disciplinary infractions have led a number of schools to institute restorative
justice techniques as an alternative to removing troubled students from the
educational setting when they break school rules (Cregor & Hewitt, 2011;
Meiners, 2011). Restorative justice is defined as “techniques for de-escalating
and resolving conflicts and strengthening bonds between students, their peers,
and their teachers” (Cregor & Hewitt, 2011, p. 6). Under restorative justice,
most schools decrease the number of offenses that can lead to a student
being suspended or expelled. School leaders are required to be more creative
in their disciplinary approaches and find ways students can atone for their
wrongdoings without being removed from school. A Denver school district
that has adopted restorative justice as the central framework to its school
disciplinary practices experienced a reduction in student suspensions by 44% in
2011 (Cregor & Hewitt, 2011).
Other solutions suggest reexamining the process of placing students in
special education. For years, researchers have stated that the overrepresentation
of Black and Latino students, particularly boys, in special education is not
coincidental (Cregor & Hewitt, 2011; Goss, 2015; Meiners, 2011; Schept et al.,
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The Journal of Correctional Education 68(3) • December 2017
Developing Prison-to-School Pipeline
DeWitt Scott
2015). Unfortunately, special education categorization is a moderate predictor
of future suspension, expulsion, under-education, unemployment, and
incarceration (Meiners, 2011). Oftentimes, students of color find themselves in
special education program tracks not because of a lack of aptitude, intelligence,
or ability. Instead, minority students’ challenges typically are identified as
belonging to “soft” disability categories, defined as “categories reliant on
assessment practices that are much more subjective and differentially interpreted
across states” (Meiners, 2011, p. 552). As a result, minority students usually
find themselves in the school-to-prison pipeline not necessarily because of
deviant behavior or incompetence, but because of inadequate decision making
by schoolteachers and administrators. Changing this practice begins with
reevaluating what qualifies a student for special education.
On the contrary, some solutions have suggested targeting higher education
for destroying the school-to-prison pipeline. Schept et al. (2015), each of whom
are criminal justice or criminology professors, explain that many colleges and
universities contribute to the preservation and perpetuation of the school-toprison pipeline through the way criminal justice and criminology academic
departments prepare college students to become future law enforcement
personnel. Within these departments, college students are trained and prepared
to be school resource officers (SROs), truant officers, judges, bailiffs, prosecutors,
juvenile probation officers, and other law enforcement professionals who,
by duty, criminalize, arrest, convict, and incarcerate students who misbehave
in school. Currently, according to Schept et al. (2015), the leftist, “neoliberal”
university of today aims to mold more open-minded, social-justice oriented
law enforcement officials who can successfully bracket their cultural and social
biases so as to objectively perform their jobs and make communities safer
(p. 102). While the pedagogical approach of these higher education departments
is admirable, it has not done enough to eradicate the pipeline. Schept et al.
(2015) suggests that criminal justice and criminology departments work to create
alternative methods, institutions, and practices that attack the root causes of
the school-to-prison pipeline such as poverty, overcrowded schools, inadequate
welfare systems, etc. Considering the resources, intelligence, and time at the
disposal of higher education scholars and leaders, redirecting the fundamental
preparation of future law enforcement leaders can have a significant effect on
the demolition of the school-to-prison pipeline.
Although not exhaustive, each of these suggestions provides researchbased solutions that can potentially put a dent in, and eventually exterminate,
the school-to-prison pipeline.
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The Journal of Correctional Education 68(3) • December 2017
DeWitt Scott
Developing Prison-to-School Pipeline
Correctional Education
Although academic and educational programs are sparsely provided in prison
today, the concept of correctional education is not new. Many states and
counties offered General Education Development (GED), high school, college,
and general self-help/personal skills classes for inmates throughout much of
the twentieth century (Anders & Noblit, 2011). Numerous studies have shown
that inmates who participate in and complete educational programs are less
likely to recidivate or have future negative encounters with the criminal justice
system (Anders & Noblit, 2011; Barringer-Brown, 2015; Halkovic, 2014; Hall,
2015; Larson, 2015; Meiners, 2011; Nally et al., 2012; Scott, 2016; Simpkins,
2015). In some areas of the country, recidivism rates are as high as 67% within
three years after an inmate is released from prison (Halkovic, 2014). Such
high recidivism rates cost taxpayers millions in incarceration costs, increased
police and surveillance, foster care, and welfare dependency. Additionally,
inmates who receive correctional education are more likely to secure gainful
employment upon release from prison, allowing ex-offenders to contribute
to the nation’s tax base and economy through earned wages and increased
purchasing power (Halkovic, 2014). In effect, correctional education not only
saves taxpayers money, but also brings more money into society, potentially
enhancing the overall economy.
Despite the overwhelming evidence attesting to the positive return on
investment in correctional education, federal financial aid for college in prison
programs was halted in 1994 with the passage of the Violent Crime Control
and Law Enforcement Act (Crime Bill) by Congress, which was signed into law
by President Bill Clinton (Halkovic, 2014). Prior to the Crime Bill, the Higher
Education Act of 1965 granted inmates the ability to obtain Pell Grants to fund
their college education while incarcerated (Halkovic, 2014). In the time between
the establishment of these two laws, numerous penal institutions across the
country worked in conjunction with nearby two- and four-year colleges to
deliver college curricula behind bars. Many professors taught in prisons as part
of their professional workload, and inmates were given the opportunity to
acquire not only associate’s and bachelor’s degrees, but advanced degrees as
well. Since the passage of the Crime Bill, any formal education that existed in
penal institutions has been subsidized through private sources. As a result, the
number of education programs and classes in prisons today is but a fraction of
what was available between 1965 and 1994 (Halkovic, 2014).
In addition to lack of funding, another significant challenge for correctional
education programs, according to the research, has been the officers and
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The Journal of Correctional Education 68(3) • December 2017
Developing Prison-to-School Pipeline
DeWitt Scott
administrators of the correctional facilities (Parrotta & Thompson, 2011).
Instructors have described ways in which prison officials disrespectfully engage
teachers, withhold classroom materials, and belittle inmates who participate in
educational programs (Parrotta & Thompson, 2011). In some instances, officers
tend to interject themselves into the classroom space in unwelcomed ways,
monitoring what is being taught by the teacher and discussed by inmates.
As Parrotta and Thompson (2011), sociology professors who teach in men’s
and women’s prisons, stated, “interactions in the classroom were frequently
conditioned by the presence or absence of prison officials and proved to be a
challenge to our critical pedagogical approach” (p. 170).
Within Parrotta and Thompson’s (2011) study, Thompson expounds deeper
into prison administrator interference on her experience teaching behind bars.
Because of the authoritative nature of the prison administration, it became
extremely difficult for Thompson to establish a democratic environment in her
classroom, which was an ultimate objective of her teaching. The strictly enforced
prison rules, extended to the classroom through the presence of hovering
guards and administrators, “impeded on our efforts, as instructors, to establish
an identity of being unlike the prison officials and resistant of oppressive rules
and regulations” (Parrotta & Thompson, 2011, p. 171).
Notwithstanding the financial and bureaucratic challenges to providing
education to prisoners, inmates who have taken courses behind bars have
repeatedly affirmed the positive affect such experiences have had on their lives.
Along with reducing recidivism and increasing employability, inmates convey
that the classroom experience in prison has given them the opportunity to
see themselves as something more than inmates (Halkovic, 2014; Parrotta &
Thompson, 2011). They begin to identify as students and developing scholars
and become more autodidactic in their approach to learning. This shift in
self-perception often begins with the instructor and his/her pedagogical
approach. Many individuals within jails and prisons have not had favorable
K–12 educational experiences (Anders & Noblit, 2011; Halkovic, 2014; Hall, 2015;
Larson, 2015; Meiners, 2011; Parrotta & Thompson, 2011; Snapp et al., 2015).
Instructors who abandon the traditional autocratic method of teaching while
inside the prison and instead employ a more inclusive and democratic style tend
to help the inmate reflect critically about his/her own personal circumstances.
For the first time, the inmate is treated humanely in a societal institution. As
Parrotta and Thompson (2011) state, “this is no small thing,” and can be the
beginning of a personal transformation for an inmate” (p. 175).
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The Journal of Correctional Education 68(3) • December 2017
DeWitt Scott
Developing Prison-to-School Pipeline
Establishing a Prison-to-School Pipeline
The funneling of poor, urban, minority school students into jails and
penitentiaries, combined with the reduced opportunities for education while
behind bars, has produced an uneducated ex-offender who is ill-prepared to
improve his/her personal condition and contribute substantively to society. Such
circumstances expose a void in the nation’s educational and social services
system that has not been adequately addressed or remedied. Considering the
proven societal benefits to educating offenders (reduced recidivism, decreased
welfare dependency, increased employability, advanced earning potential, etc.),
failing to develop concrete strategies to solve this issue is unacceptable and
borders on the criminal.
One potential solution is the intentional creation of a prison-to-school
pipeline, wherein ex-offenders are deliberately presented with options for
formal education once released from jail or prison. Although studies on the
perpetuation and effects of the school-to-prison pipeline are plentiful (Cregor &
Hewitt, 2011; Goss, 2014; Mallet, 2014; Meiners, 2011; Schept et al., 2015; Snapp
et al., 2015), not much empirical or theoretical research has been conducted
on post-prison formal education. Halkovic’s (2014) study on ex-offenders who
pursue college upon release from prison provides some context, but also leaves
the door open for other questions. A large percentage of people who are…
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