What Is…the School-to-Prison Pipeline?

What appears to be a photo of someone in a prison.

In a post I made a couple of months ago about policing and schools with majority-minority populations, one of the replies to my post reminded me of how there was a connection between what I talked about and something called the “school-to-prison pipeline.” And, it is indeed the case that there is a connection between the post I wrote about a couple of months ago and the school-to-prison pipeline.

But what it is the school-to-prison pipeline?

In short, it is “a disturbing national trend wherein children are funneled out of public schools and into the juvenile and criminal justice systems.”[1] This trend, which some kids from disadvantaged backgrounds are particularly vulnerable to (hence, this is an issue that often disproportionately affects kids of color and kids with mental health issues, to name two particular populations), involves isolating and punishing kids who cause trouble in school, in the process pushing them out of school and into the juvenile and criminal justice systems. In many such cases, various educational and counseling services might be most warranted, but instead students are often isolated and punished.

Some issues that lead to the school-to-prison pipeline include, but are not limited, to:

  • Zero-tolerance policies, which impose severe punishments upon students regardless of circumstances. Such policies are often punitive to the point that the punishment does not fit the crime. Such policies can push students out of the “school” part of the school-to-prison pipeline.
  • Police officers at schools, who are often responsible for policing the hallways at schools—a role usually reserved for teachers and school administrators. This can lead to something called school-based arrests—an issue that happens with some frequency.[2] Worse yet, these arrests can happen on quite a few occasions for minor behaviors,[3] issues that might not have resulted in arrest were it not for police officers at schools.
  • A lack of resources for many schools, which means that the extra educational support or counseling support that a troubled student might need is not available. Because of that lack of availability to such vital services (and generally the lack of ability some schools have in providing vital services), students can be at an increased risk for dropping out and for future legal involvement.[4]

So how do we address this pipeline?

For one thing, I think we need to go back to a question I asked in my previous blog post on policing and schools with majority-minority populations: Should we really have police officers in schools? I know that “abolish the police” is a controversial idea, but if police in schools don’t protect the schools, don’t protect the students at the schools, and mostly serve as a major enabler in the school-to-prison pipeline, then I honestly think that law enforcement at schools is doing way more harm than good. One other thing I will add is that if there must be law enforcement in schools (and I’m not convinced personally that it is something we must have), I think it is a must that said law enforcement is competent in interacting with kids the age that they’re supposed to work with and protect.

For another thing, zero-tolerance policies need to be reevaluated. Not all actions should receive the same punishment. Creating an environment of restorative justice (repairing the harm caused by the crime, as well as giving the offender the opportunity to do better in the future) as opposed to punitive justice (punishing the offender severely, regardless of the severity of the crime) gives an opportunity for people to learn from their mistakes, not to mention that it creates an environment likely to decrease the chances of seeing the school-to-prison pipeline come to fruition.

Last, but not least, in cases where local municipalities are unable to provide the resources needed for schools to be well-resourced, I think that states and the federal government need to step in and make sure said schools and school districts are properly resourced. A significant piece of school funding relies on local property taxes,[5] which means that if you live in an area where property values are depressed, then revenue from property taxes is depressed. This creates a ripple effect which leads to school funding in a district also being depressed. Depressed school funding, in turn, results in a lack of access to many resources for the students who need them the most.

The school-to-prison pipeline is shameful. Hopefully, in my lifetime, progress can be made to address this problem.


[1] https://www.aclu.org/issues/juvenile-justice/school-prison-pipeline

[2] There were nearly 70,000 such arrests nationwide in the 2013-14 school year. I would like to see more current data, but this number gives us a sense of how much of a problem this was, as of a few years ago: https://www.edweek.org/which-students-are-arrested-most-in-school-u-s-data-by-school#/overview

[3] https://steinhardt.nyu.edu/metrocenter/ejroc/ending-student-criminalization-and-school-prison-pipeline

[4] https://www.aclu.org/issues/juvenile-justice/school-prison-pipeline

[5] https://www.npr.org/2016/04/18/474256366/why-americas-schools-have-a-money-problem

What Is…Toxic Positivity?

Today’s post is the next installment in the “What is _____?” series, where I go over terms used commonly in social justice circles that may sound like jargon to some.

Today’s “What is_____?” post will focus on a term that I’ve started to hear more about in the mental health and chronic illness communities: toxic positivity. It’s a term that I think is particularly relevant right now during this coronavirus pandemic, hence the reason for publishing this post today, rather than waiting until later during this series.

Toxic positivity is when there is a focus on positive things and positive thinking while, at the same time, rejecting or minimizing emotions that aren’t happy or positive. Examples of toxic positivity can include phrases and sentiments such as “don’t worry so much,” “it’ll be fine” (especially if it’s something chronic or serious that won’t 100% heal), “just think positive,” and “don’t worry, be happy.” Phrases like these, while not ill-intended, can come across as trying to minimize, invalidate, or suppress negative emotions, which is why the positivity is toxic.

It is especially problematic to suppress the negative when you’re living in a time like the coronavirus pandemic. There are times when suppressing the negative is equivalent to suppressing reality. And now is one of those times when to me, at least, suppressing the negative is equivalent to suppressing reality, because reality is that we have suffered great losses in New York City and not even attempts to suppress the negative would take away that reality.

You might be wondering, though, how to avoid this well-intended, yet toxic, positivity. I’ve heard different takes on this, but here’s mine, for the time being: instead of trying to suppress negative thoughts, show empathy. Instead of suppressing the sadness of a friend who just found out about a close relative passing away, try to be sympathetic to what the friend or family member is going through. Instead of trying to tell others not to worry, be a listening ear when they do worry. Instead of telling others to “just think positive,” be willing to talk through the negative emotions if your friend wants to talk through such feelings with you.

In many if not most cases (at least in my experience), people who struggle with toxic positivity genuinely want to help their friend, their family member, or their neighbor. However, there are times when positivity at the expense of minimizing negative emotions is not the best way to go about things, and that empathy is the best course of action, in my assessment. That being said, if any of my readers have alternates to toxic positivity that I didn’t mention here (because there are different takes on toxic positivity and the alternatives to it), or any thoughts on the topic of toxic positivity, I welcome the suggestions and feedback!

How Wintry Weather is Not Friendly to People Struggling Physically or Mentally

An image of snow.

For able-bodied people like me, commuting in the snow takes a little bit more twisting and turning than it does on the average day. It’s annoying, but doable, for me.

For people with certain health challenges, whether it be physical health or mental health, the barriers created by individuals’ and/or society’s handling of winter weather, as well as barriers caused by the bad weather itself, can be problematic. Here are a few such barriers:

We as individuals don’t clear away a path wide enough for wheelchair users to navigate our sidewalks. 

Many wheelchair users need a pathway that’s at least 32 inches, so a pathway shorter than that will most definitely not be friendly to people using wheelchairs. For this, the solution is simple—just clear a wide pathway on our sidewalks!

We as a society have no effective way of handling the crosswalks that get plowed in. 

After major snowstorms, many a crosswalk in New York City, my hometown, get plowed under inches or even feet of snow. This affects wheelchair users, the young, people with other mobility issues (regardless of whether they use a walker or wheelchair or not) and the elderly the most, keeping all of these groups from effectively moving around. I am personally not aware of effective yet reasonable alternatives to this problem, though if anyone has solutions you can let me know in the comments section down below!

Pathways between sidewalks and buses are nonexistent or not wide enough for wheelchair users to pass, or for people with other mobility issues to navigate.

This is something I only noticed during a blizzard in January 2018, but boy is it a problem! Many pathways between sidewalks and buses that should exist don’t exist, making access to the bus impossible unless you’re completely able-bodied as I am. If the entity/entities responsible can shovel a pathway between sidewalks and buses wide enough for wheelchair users and people with other mobility issues to pass, the problem can be fixed.

The bad weather has adverse affects on mental health. 

A string of bad weather days can affect people who deal with claustrophobia (fear of involving being confined to small spaces), and the weather can cause great deals of stress that can be harmful to mental health, to name two. Nobody per se is at fault for these issues, but nevertheless we should be aware that these issues exist.


So next time a snow or ice storm comes, some of us may rejoice while others may complain. But regardless of what our own reactions are, we must be sensitive to the challenges that people with disabilities face in the elements. To that end, feel free to comment below is there’s some issue (physically or mentally) caused by winter weather that I did not mention in this post.

Mass Shootings and Mental Health

Two weekends ago, the United States had two heavily publicized mass shootings within fewer than 24 hours of each other: one in El Paso, Texas, and one in Dayton, Ohio. Between the two mass shootings, over 30 lives were senselessly cut short. 

In the wake of such tragedies, many of us, regardless of political affiliation, try to seek out explanations for these mass shootings. But, given my own openness about mental health on this blog, I think that I need to address just how problematic it is to simply blame mass shootings on mental health problems.

Blaming mass shootings on mental health problems makes me, and other people who’ve struggled with their mental health, feel misunderstood. By blaming mass shootings on mental health problems, we are creating this portrayal of mental health issues as something that is monstrous and seeks to do harm to others. The reality, though, is that there is a range of mental health issues, many of which have nothing to do with a desire to harm others. For example, my intrusive thoughts (unwelcome, unpleasant, and upsetting thoughts and ideas), which I’ve talked about on my blog did not involve even the slightest of desires to harm anyone else; instead, the intrusive thoughts involved a fear of my wanting to do harm to myself, even though I didn’t even want to harm myself. My friends and family who have struggled with anxiety and depression (issues different from intrusive thoughts, by the way) have never expressed a desire to harm others, either. In the wake of many mass shootings, mental illness is often associated with harm of others, even though many of us have mental health issues where we fight against harm of self, not a harm of others.

The consequences of feeling or being misunderstood with mental health are serious. According to mental health experts, stigmatizing mental health issues after mass shootings likely makes it harder for people to seek the treatment they need than it would if mental health issues were not as stigmatized.[1] We, therefore, create a situation where people struggle to seek treatment for conditions that in many cases seek no harm of others, precisely because we link harm to others with mental health issues. That is not what we need if we want to address individual mental health crises.

Even though it is problematic to link mass shootings with mental health issues, we should not ignore the serious problems with America’s mental health system. We should not lose sight of the fact that the United States lacks stand-alone mental health legislation,[2] and we should not lose sight of the fact that many patients in the United States struggle to get access to mental healthcare.[3] If we want to improve individuals’ mental health, we should avoid blaming mass shootings on mental illnesses, but instead improve our mental health care system.


[1] It is worth having this quote from an American Psychological Association statement dated August 4; this quote was published in TIME Magazine: “Routinely blaming mass shootings on mental illness is unfounded and stigmatizing. The rates of mental illness are roughly the same around the world, yet other countries are not experiencing these traumatic events as often as we face them. One critical factor is access to, and the lethality of, the weapons that are being used in these crimes. Adding racism, intolerance and bigotry to the mix is a recipe for disaster.”

[2] https://www.who.int/gho/mental_health/policy_financing/policy_health_plan/en/

[3] https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2017/11/29/567264925/health-insurers-are-still-skimping-on-mental-health-coverage

Addressing the Notion of “Praying Away” Mental Health Conditions

In many Christian circles, regardless of theology, there is the belief that you can often pray your troubles away. There is a belief that you can pray away financial troubles, family issues, physical illness, and yes, mental health issues as well.

While I am very supportive of praying for people who go through these different types of issues,[1] I think that it is extraordinarily important for me to use my past experiences with mental health issues to address the notion that it’s not always as simple as praying your mental health issues away, or that you are subject to condemnation if prayer doesn’t take away your mental health issues.[2]

You see, I was once one of those people who believed that if I prayed long enough and hard enough, any stress or anxiety I felt about my life would just go away. And honestly, in many of those cases, that was the case.

However, around the time of my grandpa’s death last fall, I discovered that suddenly, it wasn’t quite that easy. Far from it. To the contrary, no matter how much I prayed, I felt like I was sinking more deeply into an abyss of mental health issues. In response, I prayed all the harder, and yet I continued to struggle with unwelcome, unpleasant, and upsetting thoughts and ideas, best known as intrusive thoughts.

For a time, I suffered in silence—without a doubt the absolute worst thing I could’ve done at the time. I was worried about condemnation from others if I told anyone—condemnation for being a freak, for being weird, for the fact that I didn’t pray hard enough for all of this to go away, for the fact that I somehow didn’t rely on God enough. The last two of these fears, of course, relate to this notion that you can just “pray it away” and that there’s something wrong with you if you are not able to do that.

Thankfully, I was lucky to have a circle of loving family members and friends (most of whom are Christians, by the way; these people probably know who they are and these people mean the world to me) who didn’t condemn, who didn’t subscribe to the aforementioned beliefs about mental health and prayer. As a result, while my mental health is not always perfect (intrusive thoughts do make a comeback from time to time, seemingly around times of great change in my life), it has never reached quite the lows that it did around the time of my grandpa’s death.

If I want people to learn anything from my story, it would be that, regardless of whether you believe in the power of prayer (I certainly do!), sometimes mental health is more complicated than praying the sickness away, and we are being unjust to ourselves and others if we think it is always as simple as praying something away. Sometimes, it’s significantly more complicated than praying and requires support from family and friends, counseling, and/or therapy. And you know what? That’s okay.

So for anyone out there who is trying to pray the mental health condition away but you feel like you’re failing at it, as I was, just know that you’re not a freak, you’re not condemned, you’re not having issues with “failing to pray hard enough,” and you’re not alone.


[1] I’m a believer in Christ and proud of it. So yes, I am supportive of praying for people who are going through different varieties of struggles, because I pray for people going through different struggles all the time!

[2] If anyone is wondering what the “blind injustice” is, it’s that there’s a widespread belief that there is somehow something wrong with you if prayer does not cure you of your mental health issues.