Minorities And The School-to-prison Pipeline System

The School-to-Prison Pipeline further advances low-income families into the cycle of poverty and is detrimental to society and change. The School-to-Prison Pipeline is a concept where children of minorities are being oppressed by the school system and that directly leads to expulsion, which leads to prison. The “negative short term” effects of an exclusionary discipline include labeling a child as deviant and they are more likely to engage in deviant behavior which can lead to several offenses in the juvenile justice system. It is also true that once in this situation, people of color have decreased advantages of helping themselves out of the prison system. This process of discrimination can be sped up if there are already police officers on campus of a school, students can actually get arrested for their behavior at school (Owens 2016). Black and Latino students are more likely to receive a harsher punishment than white students with the same behavior during schoo.

Socioeconomic status can affect the education of these students of color, especially when there is a lack of resources the family can provide, and a higher instance of social delays in children (Mallett 2016). This means that a lot of low-income families are people of color, and poverty in America leaves children of color with disadvantages, which then is interpreted as “acting out” in the school system, and that can disproportionately call for disciplinary action. Families in this cycle of poverty have to adapt based on their new needs, especially when a member of the family is in prison. There are a lot of people of color who are in prison, especially Black and Latino people (Burton & Kang, 2014). If they end up rejoining society, there are fewer liberties when it comes to job occupancy, continuing low-income salaries. This poverty is a cycle, which starts with low socioeconomic status and ends with that as well, leaving a low accessibility of resources and a lack of opportunity for people (such as a college education), in the middle of these cycles. This effects families for generations and generations to come, and is traumatic toward these students of color.

Systemic racism is guilty of enforcing educational trauma on children, pushing them to drop out of schools. (Burton & Kang, 2014). During Professor Brockett’s trauma lecture (Brockett, 2019) she had explained the difference between different types of trauma, including racial trauma. Racial trauma is “a form of race-based stress” that highlights people of color’s experiences with discrimination (Comas-Díaz, Hall, & Neville 2019). Racial trauma can cause psychological issues similar to PTSD, and low-income families of color do not always have the access to resources needed to cope with racial trauma (Comas-Díaz, Hall, & Neville 2019). Children in academic environments who have higher levels of trauma are more likely to have a higher case of delinquency. (Burton & Kang, 2014.) The correct solution and coping methods are not to put these children in prison, but to reflect on the bigger picture systems.

The systems are easily classified by Bronfenbrenner, in Bronfenbrenner’s Ecological Model of Human Development, which is illustrated by different rings of classification and explains the relationship between child and development (for example, what the child is influenced by and interacts with). In Bronfenbrenner’s ecological system’s theory, a child is closest to their school system and their families, all included in their immediate environment, or the microsystem. They should be able to count on their entire microsystem to keep them safe from harm and be there to support them for development (Bronfenbrenner 1979). Trauma can have a ripple effect on the systems; maybe originally starting from immediate families and schools in the microsystem and spreading to the mesosystem (effecting neighborhoods and work) then to the exosystem, including social media and services in the community. Ultimately the ripple effect continues on to the macrosystem, which is made up of laws and cultural beliefs and finally effects the chronosystem (Brockett, 2019). Discrimination and racism toward a child should never be a reason to have jail be a part of their microsystem, especially when another part of their microsystem (families) have to deal with the temporary loss of an important role the child possesses.

Dealing with the loss of roles in a family, especially when a child goes to prison because of the School-to-Prison Pipeline can be difficult to experience and adapt to. Hearing that one’s child is expelled or suspended for some reason can be very stressful, especially when a low-income family is just trying to make ends meet and has other factors and responsibilities to consider. Leaning on Family System’s Theory, the family is a whole unit, complete with rules and communication patterns, as well as roles for each person (Brockett, 2019). The loss of a person’s role can affect any family negatively, including the role of twelve-year-old Liam Carter.

Liam Carter is a twelve-year-old boy at Washington Park middle school, just entering seventh grade. Liam is black, from a low-income family, his immediate family include his mother and father, who work nonstop being paid minimum wage to provide food on the table and pay the bills. Liam has two other siblings that are younger, with one of them being a newborn baby, who also has expenses. Liam has lots of friends, and is very sociable and well liked amongst his peers. Liam’s family has struggled with homelessness, racism, family fights, job hunting, and is now starting to become more stable. Liam has experienced so much, and has been through traumatic experiences in his life, accompanied with a lack of resources which makes him a little behind his class right now, he cannot keep up with the pace.

Over the school year, in Ms. Rachel’s class, Liam has been the class clown. It helps him cope with all that he has been through, he desperately likes to make people laugh. Liam’s best friend Todd is also a class clown and that is how they bond with each other. They are not from the same background whatsoever, Todd is a white boy, whose family is middleclass. His dad works full-time, and his mom stays at home to look after him and his two siblings. The two best friends love pranks, and they love to tease people. Liam’s class is mostly filled with white children, and he is one of the only people of color in the whole class.

One day, Liam and Todd are being loud in class, they are laughing and screaming together while playing pretend near the coat rack, and suddenly Ms. Rachel (a white teacher) has enough! She yells at Liam to go to the principal’s office because he is disrupting the entire class, while forgetting about Todd, assuming that Liam is the instigator in this whole situation. Liam receives in-school suspension for a couple days with a call home to his parents. His parents get him in trouble at home, and Liam now thinks that he has done something very wrong, while Todd goes completely without punishment.

A little later that year, Liam and Todd are playing in the courtyard of the middle school, and they get into a fight, as best friends do, about which of their basketball’s is better. Liam insists it is his and Todd insists it is his and they end up throwing the balls at each other, which ends in a wrestling match, and one of the campus officers’ witnesses this and breaks up the fight, pins Liam to the ground and puts Liam into handcuffs. The officer checks with the principal first, which expels Liam, accompanied with his history of disrupting the class, and then takes him downtown to be tried for assault, but the charges are dropped because Todd does not press charges. The school no longer wants to deal with Liam, he gets a phone call home to his parents notifying them he is expelled for his behavior and that he is a “bad kid”, and Liam feels awful. Todd did not get into trouble this whole scenario, and Liam was picked on because he is a loud person of color.

There might be guesses to eventually what happened to Liam, he was a part of systemic racism and racism in the school system. He was expelled for the same behavior as one of the other kids while his white best friend did not receive a punishment. His microsystem lost a huge developmental factor, which was his schooling. He was made out to be a delinquent and a deviant when he just wanted to have a good time, having already been through so many traumas, one of those traumas being racial trauma which him and his low-income family have experienced. There is nothing wrong with being low income, and his parents work very hard to make sure there is something to eat, they are not purposely being neglectful parents, they simply have roles in their family. Family system theory recognizes the roles each member of the family has, and this is an example of a nuclear family, but the role of the mother and father is to bring home money for the family, because they both have minimum wage jobs. Liam’s role as a student becomes very different when he is expelled from school, and likely he does some other deviant behavior which lands him in prison. Unable to find a job, Liam stays at home with his little siblings, watching them while his parents work, which saves money for the family. Liam is now going to have a minimum wage job after he gets out of jail, and the cycle of poverty continues, having a direct pipeline from school to prison.

During Mia Birdsong’s The Story we Tell About Poverty Isn’t True Ted Talk, she mentions that others think poorly of low-income people, often saying they do not work as hard, when really they do not have the resources that other people have (Birdsong, 2015). “The quarter-truths and limited plot lines have us convinced that poor people are a problem that needs fixing.”, when in fact, poor people are not the problem, low-income families aren’t any less hard working, they just need to be granted the same opportunities (Birdsong, 2015). We do see a direct correlation between children who have been kicked out of school for being a minority and the prison system, and most of those minorities are low-income which feeds the cycle of poverty and effects the families of these children greatly. Low-income families such as Liam’s family suffer greatly from these reactionary systematic issues. A means for change is a great solution, and so is working on individual bias. There should be more resources for children and families to seek help, such as free or low-cost counseling and therapy. There should be school resources handed out at school, and a guidance counselor who talks with the students instead of expelling them. There should be many policy changes to every school involved fight, and child expelled or sent to prison, especially zero tolerance policy schools. America is due for some reform. 

Finally, the educators and administrators need to be educated about every family at that school, where a family comes from and what area they are teaching in. This would help the teachers understand the students better and cater to the students’ needs, because that is what is necessary in the school system to guarantee success. Students and low-income families suffering the fate that the School-to-Prison Pipeline has caused, see the effects of the continuing cycle of poverty. The belief that change can happen is not too scary of a thought, many actions need to be taken and the School-to-Prison Pipeline ultimately needs to be dismantled completely.  

16 December 2021
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