School to prison pipeline: destined for disaster?

Are we destined for disaster?

In 2019, African American students in Gwinnett County represented 28% of the student body. However, they represented 51% of suspensions and expulsions from their school system, nearly three times the rate of their white counterparts. This unequal treatment is known as The School-to-Prison Pipeline. The School-to-Prison Pipeline is a series of school policies and procedures that drive many students from school directly into the criminal justice system. Affecting well over 56,000 students, the pipeline is an unjust system that punishes students of color at a significantly higher rate as compared to their non- POC (people of color) counterparts; so much so that organizations and committees have come together to fight the system of injustice.

BlackPush, an organization founded by CEO Shaun Smith, an ex-offender able to get out of the system and build a better life, works to achieve equity for the black community. Smith explains that the effects of the school-to-prison pipeline are visible throughout the country – that African Americans receive harsher treatment under the law. Furthermore, he explains that it starts in the school system when students are young, not just in front of a judge. The unjust policies in the education system lay the foundation for the policies seen later in life. As African Americans, we see that “the system doesn’t work for us,” which only continues as we grow up. When asked what BlackPush is doing to prevent the furthering of the pipeline, Smith explains they have many projects and initiatives in place. For example, they are working to make “reforms within the state of Georgia” on laws affecting juveniles, emphasizing building connections with people and organizations working to achieve the same goals because justice isn’t a one-person task.

Disciplinary referrals refer to a physical form completed by school staff to keep track of a student’s infractions on or off-campus. According to an article by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), “[Schools] lacking resources, facing incentives to push out low-performing students, and responding to a handful of highly-publicized school shootings, schools have embraced zero-tolerance policies….” Zero-tolerance policies are systems implemented that enforce punitive punishments despite the circumstances. With this “national trend,” predetermined consequences are mandated and often result in students being expelled or suspended. These harsh policies force students from a school system directly into the juvenile justice system, hence the name: School-to-Prison Pipeline.

As students (in particular, students of color), it is crucial to be aware of these unfair and racist policies so you can work against them. However, constantly getting referrals or disciplinary misconduct is only working against your success. With this knowledge, it is important to adjust your mindset and help yourself by staying out of trouble and being the best Comet you can be.

Now yields the question: What can we do about it; knowing the cards are against us, what can we, as a community do to fight it. Well, in our SG community, preventative measures are already in place. After speaking with Natilee Brown-Van, South Gwinnett’s PBIS (Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports) Coach, a greater perspective was gained about initiatives already in place to divert the school-to-prison pipeline. According to Brown-Van, the PBIS system is an initiative that teaches and exposes students to systems that help them learn to be positive. In essence, it is a “morality system” that teaches and reinforces the difference between right and wrong. However, unlike the pipeline, it praises the good things happening at South rather than constantly policing the bad. As for students, getting on board with the initiative is the first step in the right direction. Truly buying into and understanding the culture of positivity the PBIS initiative promotes not only fights the unjust policies but also allows for an overall culture of excellence to erupt in our SG community.