#WoWaWildBookClub // Reader Responses – School to Prison Pipeline

This topic is often not thought about by lay people often. I have an advanced degree in education and this topic was not discussed a single time in achieving that degree. It’s so critically important to not just take the school to prison pipeline seriously, but to look at our own complicit participation in a system that has been existing around us all. There is no ridding ourselves of systematic racism without solving this retched problem.Below are the honest responses from those in the #WoWaWildBookClub community about Chapters 20-22 in The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas.

Our fourth topic and resources were around the school to prison pipeline. You can read the Session 4 prompt and resources list here.

xx Chelsie

1. Following Starr’s and Seven’s fight with Hailey and her brother, all four are suspended. Williamson has a zero-tolerance policy, referring to a predetermined consequence for an action or circumstance, regardless of context. For example, a school might have a zero-tolerance weapons policy, so if a student brings a butter knife to school to eat their packed lunch, they would be suspended or even expelled in accordance with school policy. (This example has genuinely happened in the real world.)

What are the flaws of a zero-tolerance policy? What role does context play in this confrontation in The Hate U Give? In real-world instances? What role do zero-tolerance policies play in the school to prison pipeline?
Now think about mandatory minimum sentencing: judges are required to hand down a minimum sentence to individuals who are convicted of certain crimes, regardless of context. How does this compare to zero-tolerance policies in schools? How does this relate to racial justice?

Chelsie from #WoWaWild : The zero tolerance policy is something that is often created in school settings to create the guise of a safe culture in a school. These policies, although enacted in many schools, have not been scientifically proven to lessen the incidents that the policy exists to discipline. They are completely ineffective in changing a schools culture around violence. This is because the idea of prescriptive punishment runs completely counter to how we understand kiddos (and all humans at large) to learn and grow. Context, background knowledge, emotional health, physical well being, hell, even weather or not a kiddo had breakfast, can impact mood and behavior dramatically. Now, if you compound non-ideal situations in a kiddos life that impacts their behavior negatively and add a punishment to that situation, the kiddo is being pushed farther into a bad situation. Zero tolerance does nothing to understand a situation, find a root issue, implement supports to correct the (often multiple) issues, and change long term behavior. It does nothing to teach a kiddo that there are of course consequences, but there are also ways to move into a different behavior pattern in the future with help from loving adults.

We already see that race and racism plays a huge role in school related punishment. More students of color are punished, suspended or expelled. This takes them away from learning, from being a part of the schools culture and hinders their ability to succeed in a school setting – leading to drop outs. A high school degree is a huge predictor of life success as well as likelihood to end up in jail or prison. This is the school to prison pipeline. And if the zero tolerance policy and effects all sounds too incredibly familiar to the prison system, it’s because they are mirrors of each other. Mandatory minimums do just what is expressed above. They take no context into consideration and do not allow for individualized and proven services to be applied as a corrective act. With school policy we are setting up students to fail and end up in the criminal system.

Other #WoWaWildBookClub reader responses:

“Zero tolerance policies are basically a precursor to prison sentences. It does not allow a child to learn or grow, but simply punishes from the outset. Certainly, there should be consequences for actions, but seperating a child from their peers and learning environment does more harm than good. Not only does it set a child back in their learning, but also impacts them developmentally. Without being able to even explain the context of the situation (which makes a HUGE difference) people are held accountable. From a young age kids are taught they even if what they were fighting for was right, their voice doesn’t matter. Only their actions with no chance to explain.” – Katie

“The flaws of these policies is that they don’t account for the context of these situations. If a kid brings in an actual gun with the intent to shoot, okay fine. But a 6 year old bringing in a water gun? I think any reasonable person can see that the 6 year old didn’t mean any harm. Thankfully in The Hate U Give, the principal uses context in that situation. This related to the school to prison pipeline because if students are suspended or expelled they don’t have anything to do during the school day and may get in trouble and get arrested. Some zero tolerance policies have different infractions getting the same punishment. If students are continually suspended for little infractions like tardiness, they may drop out, increasing their risk to engage in risky behavior that could potentially increase their chance of crossing the paths of police.” -Kate

“While a zero tolerance policy creates consistency in expectations, it does not provide an opportunity to look into the reason why something happened. Zero tolerance does not lead to counseling or support of mental health if needed or connections to the reason why. It provides punishment and then moving on as opposed to creating a solution to resolving the why it happened. Zero tolerance policy in a school system correlates to prison in the sense that prison only creates a punishment and not counseling, support of mental health, or a solution. Again, minimum sentencing correlating to certain crimes slightly creates a system of consistency but as with zero tolerance, the “why” is not looked into.” – #WoWaWildBookClub Reader

2. On p.369, Maverick tells Seven, “I’m proud of you, man. Like I told you, I never got a diploma. A lot of young brothers don’t get theirs. And where we come from, a lot of them don’t make it to eighteen. Some do make it, but they’re messed up by the time they get there.” Black students are more likely to be punished and to face harsher punishments than white students for the same actions. Often, these punishments entail exclusion from the school community (such as out of school suspension and expulsion). How might these practices lead to the trauma and early death Maverick alludes to in the second half of his statement?

Reflect on the school to prison pipeline and the prison industrial complex. If you’re not familiar with them, take a moment to learn more; there are some great resources for both listed below. Where and how do these entities come into play in The Hate U Give?

What are some ways students, parents, teachers, administration, and community stakeholders can work to dismantle the school to prison pipeline?

Chelsie from #WoWaWild :

I think much of the solutions to the school to prison pipeline is putting our money where our mouth is. We need to care about every single whole child. This means not funding schools based on property or income tax, but in an equable way. Using those funds to create school resources such as mental health services, family based services, food and physical health services, and career counseling. We also need to ensure that the rules and culture do not prioritize punishment over child support. We need to recognize the success of a child is up to all of us in the community, and often this means ensuring that their whole lives are cared for, not just the life that exists within the school. In a perfect world our school system is not just about education, but care. And this is not put on the shoulders of just the educators, there are professionals to support every aspect of the child and create an ecosystem for children to thrive and blossom in adulthood.

Other #WoWaWildBookClub reader responses:

“Facing unfair situations and knowing that as an African American you are more likely to face a deeper consequence may lead some individuals to not care what trouble they are going to get into because their mindset is on knowing they will end up in trouble anyways. In the documentary 13th it discussed how systematic oppression is a cycle with the African American community. Once Maverick completed his jail time he struggled to find employment. Which keeps the cycle of oppression ongoing. I think the biggest solution is allocating funding in schools to more strongly support counselors and mental health programs. I also believe schools should be allocating money back into life skills and trades as opposed to schools that are only focused on college bound students.” -WoWaWildBookClub Reader

Nonetheless, there is a real and serious pipeline/link between lack of education and prison. Studies I read in the 90s showed the greatest correlation is between employment and criminal offenses. I think it is logical that employment is tied to education so the pipeline is real. Providing employment opportunities for those who did not fit into traditional schooling prior to and post prison are critical to a healthy society. It’s hard to digest but I have met people who did 20+ years in prison and now are model members of the community. We have to come to terms that people are going to eventually get out of prison and what then. We must provide opportunities or face harsher realities. I am involved with a land conservancy which hires drug addicts and felons to remove invasive species that is decimating native foliage. I worked in the woods with one of those guys and he is an absolute inspiration and trains many others in how to do that work. Society has to open our mind and heart to those who have made mistakes or more negative consequences will be faced. – Daniel

Responses about other resources:

Chelsie from #WoWaWild : The info graphic related to the school to prison pipeline made the sad truth so obvious. The educational community needs to do better. I also watched 13th and my mind was BLOWN. Having someone take this deep, dark, complex topic and lay it out bit by bit, it helped me to truly see how flawed many of our systems are. The 13th amendment literally legalizes slavery in the USA – as long as you are in prison – this is INSANE. The issues in our prison system create such gaping, deep, dark systematic moral holes – we all need to work toward dismantling this every single day until we can be proud of how we treat every single citizen in this country – including those convicted of crimes.

“The documentary 13th was a wonderful educational opportunity for myself.” – #WoWaWildBookClub Reader

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