School to Prison Pipeline Ecosystem

Boston has been one of a few cities across the country to put some effort towards mitigating the over-incarceration of young children of color, otherwise known as the school-to-prison pipeline. Across the country, the school-to-prison pipeline is a pattern that can begin from pre-K and follows a child throughout their youth. Data shows that children who have been given out-of-school suspensions, expulsions, or otherwise fall victim to zero-tolerance policy within the school systems are far more likely to drop out later in their academic career, and consequently more likely to find themselves in the criminal justice system. Though strict disciplinary policies are rarely beneficial to all students, this is extremely detrimental for school-aged children of color and children with disabilities, the most deeply affected groups when it comes to this pattern.

In a recent study of Boston Public Schools, the school-to-prison pipeline was shown to be alive and well within the city. About 10 percent of all black males, 9 percent of all student with an Individualized Education Program (IEP) and 6 percent of all Latino males were suspended, slightly above the 5 percent of all students who were suspended in the 2014-15 school year. Those numbers are compelling, but not as compelling as the reasons behind those suspensions: In the 2012-13 school year, the Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice found that just over 72 percent of students in the state were disciplined for non-violent and non-criminal offenses with a suspension. In that same year, the Committee found similarly staggering patterns by race–1 in 8 black students were disciplined overall, compared to 1 in 27 white students. While the figures are quite stark, the implications are the most troubling. The high number people of color affected by out of school suspensions and expulsions mirror the prevalence of people of color found later in the criminal justice system.

Boston has been making strides in addressing these disparities by funneling resources towards this particular issue. Organizations like Greater Boston Legal Services and the ACLU of Massachusetts have dedicated funding and effort towards this through particular projects and efforts. One such initiative is the School to Prison Pipeline, created by Greater Boston Legal Services, which partners with MassHealth to provide more holistic treatment for kids who may be affected by this precedent.


An wide ecosystem of actors are also involved in either maintaining the status quo or actively working to mitigate it–they can be found in the ecosystem map here.


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