SPLC calls on Congress, school districts to end ‘school-to-prison pipeline’

The SPLC urged Congress today to address the harsh discipline policies within the nation’s schools that are unnecessarily pushing children out of school and into jails and prisons.

In testimony submitted to a Senate subcommittee, the SPLC described how zero-tolerance policies that rely on suspension and expulsion – as well as the presence of police officers in the nation’s schools – have created a “school-to-prison pipeline” that funnels students into the justice system.

These practices have resulted in schools where misbehavior that once earned a student a trip to the principal’s office can now result in a trip to juvenile court and a series of entanglements with the justice system. They also disproportionately affect children of color and children with disabilities in poor Deep South school districts, according to the written testimony submitted as part of a hearing by the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights.

“Arresting children in school is traumatic and robs them of an education,” said Jerri Katzerman, SPLC deputy legal director. “It is time for schools to end discipline practices that criminalize our children and cut their futures short.”

The SPLC has filed civil rights complaints in Alabama, Florida, Louisiana and Mississippi to end these practices. Several examples of the “school-to-prison pipeline” were highlighted in the testimony.

In Jefferson Parish, La., school officials have given armed police the authority to stop, frisk, and even arrest students on – and off – school grounds. Students are often arrested for minor misbehavior that should be handled by school personnel.

In Alabama, students in Mobile County Public Schools are frequently suspended for weeks for uniform violations, skipping class and tardiness. Although the school district is approximately 50 percent African-American, 76 percent of the students receiving long-term suspensions are African-American.

In Bay County, Fla., a student was suspended for three days for classroom disruption because he was tapping his pencil on a desk.

In Meridian, Miss., students are routinely arrested and transported to the juvenile detention center for minor classroom misbehavior. If a student on probation is suspended from school, it can be considered a probation violation, which means the student is sent to the detention center to serve the suspension.

The SPLC recommended the following policy reforms to Congress and school districts:

  • Adopt reasonable school disciplinary policies.

  • Limit the use of law enforcement officials in public schools.

  • Apply zero-tolerance policies to criminal offenses rather than regulations concerning attendance, attire and behavior.

  • Encourage use of proven services designed to remedy – not just punish – misconduct.