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

Coronavirus Update From New York City: December 3, 2020

I was really hoping that I wouldn’t have to resume my weekly updates on the coronavirus ever again. But alas, here I am, resuming my weekly updates on this virus.

While there are still many places in much worse shape than my city and my state, we are trending in a very bad direction. Just a few weeks ago the COVID test positivity rate in my zip code was quite low, but now we are at a positivity rate of 6.5%. Given that we are trending in a direction that could lead to many more hospitalizations and deaths (deaths being a lagging indicator but an indicator that’s also starting to go in the wrong direction in New York State), it seems like a good time to restart my weekly updates.

Another reason I’m restarting my weekly updates is that, even though we’re not quite the center of the COVID universe in terms of cases and deaths right now (though if numbers keep on trending the way that they are, I fear we will be in bad shape before long), we still seem to be at the center of the American universe (or at least a center) when it comes to questions over COVID-related restrictions. Two instances where my city was at the center of questions about COVID restrictions were with the closure of schools citywide and the restrictions on the number of people attending religious gatherings in COVID hotspots.

With regards to the school closures, the public schools had a hybrid of in-person and online learning at the start of the school year, with schools in COVID hotspots (or schools with COVID issues) going fully online until those issues with COVID were resolved. However, with COVID rates spiking in New York City, a decision was made to go fully online for now. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has received significant criticism for this move, which perhaps explains why there’s work towards schools reopening again for hybrid learning in the coming days.[1] We’ll see how that goes.

With regards to the restrictions on the number of people attending religious gatherings in COVID hotspots, what happened was that entities of various kinds, from religious gatherings to non-essential businesses, faced various restrictions if COVID were bad enough (based on the test positivity rate) to warrant placement in an “orange” or “red” zone. In the case of religious gatherings, they were limited to 25 people in orange zones and 10 people in red zones. These restrictions were controversially struck down by the Supreme Court.[2] My thoughts on this are…complicated. Personally, I think that it was rather bizarre to have such arbitrary numbers for the number of people allowed to attend religious gatherings, regardless of the size of the religious building (whether it be a large cathedral like St. Patrick’s or a smaller church like the one I go to every Sunday)–it would have been better in my humble opinion if the capacity limits were determined by percentages (33% of space capacity, 25% of space capacity, etc.) instead of arbitrary numbers that applied to religious spaces of all sizes. That being said, I don’t see eye-to-eye with the argument made by the religious institution I am a part of,[3] and by extension the Supreme Court’s argument, that this is an issue of religious freedom for Catholics[4]–the real infringement on this freedom is if we don’t take the proper precautions, get ourselves and each other sick, and then prevent ourselves and others from feeling up to a vibrant exercise of our religion. In other words, the attack on religious freedom, at least in my own humble opinion, is from the virus itself and those unwilling to take basic precautions against it. I would also add that with the existence of televised and online Masses where you can even receive the most important sacrament (the Eucharist) spiritually,[5] I have a hard time seeing how being forced to watch a Mass virtually for the sake of COVID precautions crosses the line from “not ideal” to an attack on religious liberty. Maybe someone can enlighten me though, as I know I have readers with substantial amount of knowledge on Catholic theology.

Between the news coming down from the Supreme Court (just in time for major religious celebrations) and the number of people travelling during the holidays, I fear that these numbers are about to get much worse. I hope my fears are inaccurate.

I do have hope though for New York City. This hope comes from the fact that we know so much more about this pandemic now than we did in the spring, and that as a result we hopefully will not have hospital and death rates anywhere near as high as what we did back then. I want my hope to turn into reality, but alas, global pandemics do their own thing and do not listen to any hopes I may have.


[1] https://www.theguardian.com/education/2020/nov/29/new-york-city-public-schools-to-reopen

[2] https://newyork.cbslocal.com/2020/11/26/scotus-rules-against-ny-religious-gathering-restrictions/

[3] I am a Catholic, and I live in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn. It’s the same diocese that was involved in legal challenges to Governor Cuomo’s restrictions for “red” and “orange” zones.

[4] However, I cannot speak for other denominations of Christianity, let alone other religions.

[5] Catholics have something called Spiritual Communion, where one who desires to physically receive the Eucharist but is unable to because of circumstances can receive the Eucharist spiritually.

Cutting Civics from School Curricula: An Unjust Move

With the school year either coming up or starting in many states, kids are preparing to learn a multitude of subjects: history, English, Math, and Science, to name a few.

One subject will be noticeably absent for some kids: Civics.

Civics, which is defined as “a social science dealing with the rights and duties of citizens,”[1] can teach students about, among other things:

  1. The importance of voting;
  2. How to know who their representatives are;
  3. How they can be involved in the legislative process, by writing to their representatives about important issues (or calling their legislators);
  4. How people can use their representatives to solve a wide range of issues (provided the representative is responsive, of course);
  5. How to follow the affairs of the government in your city, state, and country.

Teaching kids about these things, and more, through a vibrant Civics curriculum, should be an absolute no-brainer. It promotes civic involvement and awareness of local affairs.

And yet, it seems like Civics education is often on the chopping block in school districts, states, and even federally.[2]

When these cuts come to fruition, what this means is that many kids will grow into adults who are in grave danger of lacking awareness of the full extent of their rights and duties as citizens, ranging from voting rights to the right they have to push their representatives on major issues.

In short, hyperbolic as this may sound to some, cutting Civics is a form of voter suppression and a form of weakening our democracy. After all, if kids aren’t taught about who their representatives are, how will they know to vote for (or against) their representatives when they are adults? If kids don’t know that they can write to their representatives, what will keep a representative from going against the will of their residents, whether that will is spoken or unspoken? If kids aren’t taught how to follow government affairs, how can they cast an informed ballot when they’re adults?

For those of us who think that voter suppression and disenfranchisement starts at the age of 18, when a citizen can vote, think again. It starts when kids are taught minimal or no Civics. However, my readers (or at least readers who live in the United States) can play a role in stopping this—if you ever hear your government, whether it be your school district, your city, your state, or your country, considering cuts to Civics programs, contact your representatives and make it known just how important Civics truly is.

Please note that I will not publish a post next Tuesday, as it will be the Tuesday after Labor Day.


[1] https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/civics

[2] Apparently, Civics was among Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’s proposed budget cuts. I don’t know if this proposal saw the light of day, but the fact that Civics is so frequently on the chopping block, even at the federal level, should alarm proponents of Civics education: https://www.washingtonpost.com/education/2019/04/03/special-olympics-funding-outcry-is-over-its-been-crickets-over-some-devoss-other-proposed-education-budget-cuts-think-civics-history-arts/?noredirect=on

Earth Day 2019: Focusing on Policies that Don’t Intend to Hurt the Environment…But Hurt the Environment Anyway

Sometimes, it’s not easy being green. We are often required to drive to/from work, drive our kids to school, drive to get to other family members’ places, have a job that requires someone to drive…on and on it goes. The bottom line is that even if we don’t want to put more pollution in the air, our living habits are such that we often have no other choice.

And here’s the thing: so many of these things are the result of policies that don’t intend to hurt the environment per se, but do so nevertheless. 

But how? Here’s a list of several policies not intended to hurt the environment, but that hurt the environment anyway:

  1. Approaches to land use have often favored development of car-reliant suburbs over transit-reliant areas. For decades, the focus was (and still is) on building around the highway. One of the most famous examples in the post-World War II era was with parts of Long Island in New York being built around the Long Island Expressway, but there are many other examples of this. Policy that allows for the building of areas that are destined to be mass transit deserts leads to heavy use of the car and heavy pollution.
  2. Poor funding for mass transit means fewer mass transit options, and pushing people towards the car. If there’s no mass transit available to take because of a lack of funding for mass transit, what choice is there other than to drive a pollution-emitting car?
  3. School choice policies mean that kids have to be driven or bused to the schools of their choices. What I say here may be controversial, as school choice sounds great and is popular with many. However, one of the consequences of school choice is that, instead of having to walk to the neighborhood school (especially in urban areas), kids have to be driven to far-away places. No pun intended, but if governmental bureaucrats invested energy into making all schools good, there would be no need for kids to have to be driven for miles, while emitting pollutants into the air.
  4. Speaking of schools, many school districts have school lunches that prominently feature food that emits high levels of greenhouse gases. As things like red meats are a large part of the lunch fare at many schools, school districts are heavily using food that emits high amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere. Lean meats and vegetables are not only healthier for kids than red meats, but they are healthier for the environment.
  5. We’re not doing enough to make housing affordable. In places like New York City and Washington, DC, people often drive long distances to work because nearby areas are simply not affordable. In short, affordability crises are not just bad for people’s pocketbooks, but bad for the environment because people have to drive to work.
  6. Many municipalities recycle but don’t provide easy access for people who want to recycle certain kinds of items. That’s how you end up with copious amounts of e-waste inside a home (including my home)—sometimes a city, even one that purports to be environmental (such as New York City), doesn’t have easy access for people who want to recycle said e-waste (or other waste).

Obviously, this is a rather car-heavy list. Regardless of that, my point is that there are many governmental approaches and policies that are not malicious to the environment per se, but end up doing a great deal of harm to it. And, during this week of Earth Day, we should be aware of such policies.

The Fight for African American Civil Rights is Not Over

When my brother and I went through the educational system, we were taught that the big fight for African American civil rights was in the 1950s and 1960s…and then there was nothing on that fight after then.

That is somewhat understandable, because several of the most significant court decisions and pieces of legislation on African American civil rights in the history of the United States happened/passed in the 1950s and 1960s.

However, the fight for African American civil rights is far from over, and in fact, in a number of ways, the United States has seemingly gone backward on African American civil rights.

There is clearly a disconnect going on here, between what some people believe and what the reality is.

Below are three of the common[1] beliefs about African American civil rights that are incorrect. Those incorrect beliefs are in bold and the answers to those incorrect beliefs are in regular text:

  1. We have gone forward on voting rights in recent decades. Actually, the United States has gone backward on voting rights for African Americans. Several years ago, the United States Supreme Court struck down key provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Since then, many hundreds of voting sites have closed down, an overwhelming majority of them being in African American communities.[2] Additionally, Voter ID laws have come into play in numerous states; these ID laws have disproportionately affected people of color.[3] If you think that voting rights for African Americans are going forward, think again.
  2. School segregation is in the past. It’s over. To the contrary, racial integration in schools has also gone backward. This Atlantic article goes into great detail about school segregation in the United States. But the TL; DR (short for too long; didn’t read) version is that school segregation is actually getting worse, and there seems to be relatively little political will to sufficiently address that fact. And that’s not just a problem in the American South—there was a whole feature story, also in The Atlantic, about how the new chancellor of the New York City schools has made desegregation of schools a major priority because segregation has become a problem in New York. The consequence is schools that are separate…and unequal.
  3. White people and people of color are treated equally under the law. That’s not true either; the criminal justice system still shows racial disparities. A study in 2017 showed that black men get 19.1% longer sentences than white men on average…for the same crimes![4] Innocent African Americans are much more likely to be wrongfully convicted than innocent people of other races—50% more likely for murder, 3 ½ times more likely for sexual assault, and a staggering 12 times more likely for drug crimes.[5] The disparities may not come as a surprise for many, but the magnitude of the disparities may catch some off-guard—while also demonstrating that the United States has a long way to go on criminal justice issues.

Some people may yet argue that the fight for African American civil rights is over, and that anyone who believes otherwise is somehow holding on to misplaced bitterness. However, during this Black History Month, I argue that actually, it’s far from over. To the contrary, we’re going backward, whether people realize it or not.


[1] Note that this list is not comprehensive. In order to keep this post relatively short, I narrowed it down to three key areas where the fight for African American civil rights is clearly not over.

[2] https://www.pewtrusts.org/en/research-and-analysis/blogs/stateline/2018/09/04/polling-places-remain-a-target-ahead-of-november-elections

[3] https://www.pewtrusts.org/en/research-and-analysis/blogs/stateline/2018/09/04/polling-places-remain-a-target-ahead-of-november-elections

[4] https://abcnews.go.com/Politics/black-men-sentenced-time-white-men-crime-study/story?id=51203491

[5] http://www.law.umich.edu/special/exoneration/Documents/Race_and_Wrongful_Convictions.pdf