“A routine school disciplinary infraction should land a student in the principal’s office, not in a police precinct.”

Former Attorney General Eric Holder

Although New Jersey has been successful in reducing the percentage of criminal justice system-involved youth over the past decade, hundreds of incidents in New Jersey schools each year push students out of the classroom and into the juvenile and criminal justice systems through a set of insidious practices known as the “school-to-prison pipeline.”

Too often and for too long, schools have referred typical student misbehavior to the police, rather than resolving the issue in school. A referral to law enforcement embroils the student in the juvenile or criminal justice system — he or she will be the subject of a police record; his or her family may be charged court fees and sometimes hefty fines; and the student may face incarceration. At school, a police referral brands the student as a troublemaker, prompting heightened scrutiny of the student’s actions both in and out of school.  That child then becomes less likely to graduate and more likely to end up involved in the criminal justice system as an adult—high school dropouts are three-and-a-half times more likely to become incarcerated than their graduating peers. Significantly, this burden does not fall on all students equally—suspensions, expulsions and arrests disproportionately affect minority students.

According to the U.S. Department of Education, while suspensions decreased between the 2011-12 and 2013-14 school years, racial disparities persisted:

  • Black students are nearly four times as likely to be suspended as white students.
  • Black girls comprise 20% of female preschool enrollment, but account for 54% of preschool children suspensions.
  • Black students are twice as likely to be expelled as white students.

Check out the video by our allies at the Advancement Project to learn more about the school to prison pipeline.