I He(art) Justice 2017: Dismantling the School-to-Prison Pipeline

Emphasis Area: Dismantling the School-to-Prison Pipeline


The “school-to-prison pipeline” describes what happens when students are pushed out of school by being suspended, placed in alternative schools, expelled, or by coming into unnecessary contact with school police and courts. Students in Texas public schools are often pushed out of class for minor behaviors that could be handled by teachers or administrators in the classroom. Students who are suspended, expelled, or sent to an alternative school are up to 10 times more likely to fail academically, be retained a grade, and drop out, and almost three times more likely to have contact with the juvenile justice system. Students of color and those with disabilities are significantly more likely than their peers to be suspended, expelled, or to have an encounter with school law enforcement.


Texas Appleseed works to encourage school districts and educators to use research-based alternatives to traditional exclusionary discipline and school policing that help students and schools thrive so that we can close pathways to dropout and incarceration.

Background Statistics

  • A recent Texas-based study by the Council of State Governments (CSG) revealed that nearly 60% of students had been suspended or expelled at least once during their middle or high school years.
  • Young students are not immune. During the 2013-14 school year alone, more than 88,000 suspensions from Texas schools were meted out to elementary school students. Of these, over 2,500 suspensions were of pre-kindergarten students, and over 36,000 were of students in grades K-2nd.
  • The increasing presence of law enforcement on school campuses means that these disciplinary actions are often accompanied by a court referral or law enforcement action. Of the more than 59,000 referrals to juvenile probation during CY 2015, 28% were the result of arrests by school-based law enforcement, with 46% of all referrals of 10-12 year olds coming from schools. 
  • Black students and students with disabilities are overrepresented in school discipline and school-based law enforcement referrals. 
      • The CSG study showed Black students were 31 percent more likely than their White peers to be suspended or expelled for a discretionary reason (i.e. – not one of the state mandated suspension or expulsion “zero tolerance” offenses). In 2015, Black students were close to three times more likely to be arrested or referred to juvenile probation for school-related behavior.
      • The CSG study showed that 3 out of 4 special education students were suspended or expelled at least once during their middle or high school years, with youth who had an emotional disturbance almost 24 times more likely than other students to be disciplined. Multiple studies have shown they are also significantly more likely to be arrested or referred to court by school police.

Personal Story

When he was 13, Ethan was on the school bus on the way home and was playing with a small drone the size of a half dollar that made a beeping sound. Some of the children, including him, joked that it was a bomb. The bus driver pulled back into the school, where a School Resource Officer took all the kids off the bus and took away the drone. They called Ethan’s mother and she immediately came to get her son. Ethan was then charged with a terrorist threat, put in juvenile detention for two days, given deferred adjudication and placed on probation, suspended for two days, and sent to an alternative learning school for 60 days.  After 30 days in alternative learning, Ethan returned to school, but in part due to his missed class, he did not pass the STAR test. His mother decided to have him repeat the 8th grade since he missed so much school in DAEP. Pearland did not want to hold him back so family switched to a different school district.  Ethan likes his new school, but had difficulties at first because his probation officer was showing up at school and Ethan could not start with a clean slate. Ethan and his mom are worried that terroristic threats charge will impact his ability to join the military (something he always wanted to do).

Additional Interest Areas

Helping Homeless Youth

Criminal Justice Reform

Fair Financial Services

Fair Housing

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