Harsh school policies and practices and an increased role of law enforcement in schools have combined to create a “schoolhouse-to-jailhouse track,” in which out-of-school suspensions, expulsions, and school-based arrests are increasingly used to deal with student misbehavior, especially for minor incidents, and huge numbers of children and youth are pushed out of school and into the juvenile and criminal justice systems. This is more than an education crisis; it is a racial justice crisis because the students pushed out through harsh discipline are disproportionately students of color. Students with disabilities and LGBTQ students are also disproportionately impacted by these ineffective policies.
The schoolhouse to jailhouse track is an education problem as much as it is a criminal justice problem. When students are pushed out of school through harsh disciplinary policies, their education is interrupted. For many students, harsh discipline is part of a vicious cycle. Students who are already struggling are more prone to misbehavior out of frustration. When they do “act out,” they are harshly punished, which in turn leads to further academic struggle and frustration. Stopping the schoolhouse to jailhouse track thus not only promises to treat our children humanely and keep them out of prison, it also promises to be a first step towards offering every child the opportunity to succeed in school and beyond.