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The School-to-Prison Pipeline Disproportionately Disenfranchises People of Color

By Benjamin Thornton


While much research has been done on the school-to-prison pipeline, there has been little

documentation of its long-term effects. The criminalization of school children–particularly

low-income students of color–negatively affects social and emotional wellbeing, as well as the

lifelong economic standing of impacted individuals. An often overlooked loss from the

school-to-prison pipeline, however, is the right to vote for millions of Americans. Across the

country, states prohibit convicted felons from voting, with varying degrees of strictness regarding

when those individuals can regain their voting rights. Some states, many in the south, never

return the right to vote to convicted felons.


These especially punitive laws that permanently take away the right to vote become

especially problematic when it comes to the school-to-prison pipeline. Current school disciplinary practices across the country make it so law enforcement officials arrest children in response to misbehavior when school personnel could more effectively hand down consequences. Data on felonies from school incidents is hard to come by, but a recent report sheds light on how New York City policies its schools: in 2022, there were 350 “felony incidents” within New York City Public schools (Walsh, 2023). Per New York state’s

disenfranchisement laws, those children convicted of felonies at school will lose the right to vote

while incarcerated. Once they are released from custody, however, those individuals will regain

their voting rights. For children convicted of felonies at school in Alabama, however, they likely

forfeit the chance to ever participate in democracy. Alabama requires a pardon by the governor

or approval through a separate administrative process to regain one’s vote following

incarceration for a felony (Restoration of Rights Project, 2021).


While the amount of felonies committed at school may seem like a drop in the bucket,

there is an alarming correlation between police presence in schools and disenfranchisement.

Using data from Education Week on the percentage of schools with police officers within each

state, as well as disenfranchisement data from the Sentencing Project, the graph below shows a

moderate positive correlation between the two.


In other words, the higher percentage of schools within each state that have a police presence, the

higher percentage of citizens within that state have lost the right to vote, generally speaking.

This moderate positive correlation suggests that the police in schools, a cornerstone of the

school-to-prison pipeline, is having negative lifelong effects for impacted students. Even more

troubling are the racial and socioeconomic disparities that plague the enforcement of school

discipline. Black students are three times as likely to be suspended from school than their white

counterparts (Kim et al., 2010, p. 2). This disparity translates to juvenile detention centers too. In

New York City (where 350 felonies happened at school in 2022), Black and Latino children

make up 95% of the city’s juvenile detention centers (Singer & Thompson, 2018, p. 133). It is

clear that children of color are being disproportionately policed at school and in totality. One can

conclude this trend is contributing to a disproportionate loss of voting rights for people of color

as well.


References

Education Week. (2017). Which Students Are Arrested the Most? Education Week. Retrieved July

9, 2023, from

https://www.edweek.org/which-students-are-arrested-most-in-school-u-s-data-by-school#

/overview

Kim, C. Y., Losen, D. J., & Hewitt, D. T. (2010). The School-to-Prison Pipeline: Structuring

Legal Reform. New York University Press.

Restoration of Rights Project. (2021, December). 50-State Comparison: Loss & Restoration of

Civil/Firearms Rights. Restoration of Rights Project. Retrieved June 28, 2023, from

https://ccresourcecenter.org/state-restoration-profiles/chart-1-loss-and-restoration-of-civil

-rights-and-firearms-privileges/

Singer, A., & Thompson, E. (2018). Battling Zero-Tolerance in Schools and the School-to-Prison

Pipeline. Counterpoints, 121-141.

Uggen, C., Larson, R., Shannon, S., & Stewart, R. (2022, October 25). Locked Out 2022:

Estimates of People Denied Voting Rights. The Sentencing Project. Retrieved July 9,

2023, from

https://www.sentencingproject.org/reports/locked-out-2022-estimates-of-people-denied-v

oting-rights/

Walsh, M. (2023, February 2). NYC public schools see uptick in felonies in 2022: mayor's report.

New York Post. Retrieved July 9, 2023, from

https://nypost.com/2023/02/02/nyc-public-schools-see-uptick-in-felonies-in-2022-mayors

-report/




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