Pipeline to Prison

The pipeline to prison refers to school discipline policies (e.g., zero tolerance) and practices that remove students from learning opportunities (e.g., out of school suspension) and push students out of school (e.g., expulsion, school-based arrest) and into the juvenile and criminal justice systems increasingly for minor offenses and non-violent behavior such as smoking cigarettes, coming to school out of uniform or using a cell phone. Research and data have indicated that racial/ethnic minorities and students with disabilities are disproportionately affected by such policies and practices.

Related Terms:
school to prison pipeline, cradle to prison pipeline, schoolhouse to jailhouse track

Breaking Schools’ Rules: A Statewide Study on How School Discipline Relates to Students’ Success and Juvenile Justice Involvement

(2011) The Council of State Governments Justice Center and the Public Policy Research Institute at Texas A&M University

This unprecedented statewide study of nearly 1 million Texas public secondary school students, followed for at least six years found that when students are suspended or expelled, the likelihood that they will repeat a grade, not graduate, and/or become involved in the juvenile justice system increases significantly. African-American students and children with particular educational disabilities who qualify for special education were suspended and expelled at especially high rates.

The School-to-Prison Pipeline: Structuring Legal Reform

(2010) The Civil Rights Project

In this comprehensive study of the relationship between American law and the school-to-prison pipeline, co-authors Catherine Y. Kim, Daniel J. Losen, and Damon T. Hewitt analyze the current state of the law for each entry point on the pipeline and propose legal theories and remedies to challenge them. Using specific state-based examples and case studies, the authors assert that law can be an effective weapon in the struggle to reduce the number of children caught in the pipeline, address the devastating consequences of the pipeline on families and communities, and ensure that our public schools and juvenile justice system further the goals for which they were created: to provide meaningful, safe opportunities for all the nation’s children.

Test, Punish, and Push Out: How Zero Tolerance and High-Stakes Testing Funnel Youth into the School-to-Prison Pipeline

(2010) Advancement Project

This report aims to help stakeholders move beyond zero-tolerance policies and high-stakes testing, explaining their mutual reinforcement contribute to hostile school environments and push students into the school-to-prison pipeline. It cites evidence that zero-tolerance policies have not improved school safety or student behavior and provides examples in which alternative prevention and intervention strategies have been successful.

Locating the School-to-Prison Pipeline

(2008) American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)

This resource provides information on the stops along the school-to-prison pipeline. It discusses inadequate resources in public schools; zero-tolerance policies and lack of due process for students; schools’ increased reliance on police, school resource officers, and school-based arrests; problematic disciplinary alternative schools; youth contact with courts; and barriers to youth re-entry in regular schools.

Safe Schools, Staff Development, and the School-to-Prison Pipeline

(2012) Simon Gonsoulin, Mark Zablocki, and Peter E. Leone

This report reviews the importance of the effective professional development of school personnel to break the pipeline from schools to the juvenile justice system and to promote positive youth development. It presents a three-tiered model—1) Universal Staff Development for school personnel and community partners, 2) Targeted Staff Development for anyone, including School Resource Officers (SROs), who has regular contact with youth, and 3) Intensive Staff Development for school personnel and SROs. It also reviews a related example of The Denver Public School System.

Cradle to Prison Pipeline Campaign

Children’s Defense Fund (CDF)

This webpage explains that community leaders, government officials, educators, parents, and youth have formed and can form state coalitions to develop and promote policies and practices to keep youth in schools and break the cradle-to-prison pipeline.

ACLU's School-to-Prison Pipeline Game

American Civil Liberties Union

Through a series of questions, learn the facts about the practices and policies that affect the pipeline to prison.

The School-to-Prison Pipeline

(Spring 2013) Teaching Tolerance

An article in this issue includes action items for schools and school districts to divert the school-to-prison pipeline, and a section—A Teacher’s Guide to Rerouting the Pipeline—that mentions five responsive shifts in teacher thinking, including not criminalizing students for minor misbehavior.

Mapping and Analyzing the Schoolhouse to Jailhouse Track: An Action Kit for Understanding How Harsh School Discipline Policies and Practices are Impacting Your Community

(2009) Advancement Project

This action kit was developed by the Advancement Project, informed by its work with community partners, and is aimed to help communities understand and end the schoolhouse-to-jailhouse track. It explains how people can collect and analyze information and data about school discipline policies and practices and construct messages that influence positive reform.

School to Prison Pipeline Toolkit

New York Civil Liberties Union

This toolkit includes a section on actions that everyone—including parents, youth, educators, and advocates—can take against the school-to-prison pipeline.

Challenging Harsh Disciplinary Policies in Schools: A Tool Kit

Suspension Stories

This brief document presents the school-to-prison pipeline, related statistics, and a few actions that one can take.

Community-Based Solutions to End the School-to-Prison Pipeline

Alliance for Educational Justice (AEJ)

This webpage cites programs in Chicago, Denver, New York, and Philadelphia aimed to end the school-to-prison pipeline.

Dismantling the School-to-Prison Pipeline: A Survey from the Field

(2011) NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund

This article reviews the school-to-prison pipeline and the steps that some people and organizations have taken to address the pipeline in places such as Denver, CO, Clayton County, GA, Los Angeles, CA, and Eau Claire Public Schools in Wisconsin.

Beating the school-to-prison pipeline

(2012) Oakland Local

This article—part of a 10-part series of articles called “Getting out and staying out: Lessening the Impact of Incarceration on Oakland”—mentions that the United for Success Academy in Oakland, CA, implemented a Restorative Justice pilot program, reducing its suspensions significantly.

As School-To-Prison Pipeline Continues To Swallow Students, Denver Works To Stem Flow

(2013) The Huffington Post

This article explains that while Denver Public Schools’ suspensions and expulsions have decreased significantly, parents and students have continued to push for reforms, especially since students of color are overrepresented among those who face school-based arrests. The report also mentions that, under a recent agreement, school resource officers (SROs) and school officials plan to work further together, so that the presence of SROs does not contribute to the pipeline.


The Advancement Project's Ending the Schoolhouse to Jailhouse Track program, produced an infographic on the school-to-prison pipeline to help explain what the pipeline is and how it affects students.