Class Rings or Handcuffs?


Education on lockdown…

Too many times I have inquired about past students only to learn they have begun the crawl through the pipeline.

They went from the classroom to jail. When this happens, I start to question if there was any more I could have done.


The School-to-Prison Pipeline refers to school policies and procedures that drive many of our nation’s school children onto a pathway that begins in school and ends in the criminal justice system.

This is part of a national trend that criminalizes rather than educates students — and one that uses a “tough-on-crime” policy which disproportionately targets students — resulting in millions of mostly black and brown people winding up behind bars.

Many of these children have learning disabilities or histories of poverty, abuse, and/or neglect, and would benefit from additional educational and counseling services. Instead, they are isolated, punished, and pushed out.

The main argument is that schools across America have become “feeder institutions” for the juvenile and criminal justice systems. Zero tolerance policies enacted during the juvenile crime wave of the late 1980’s have evolved into policies that are unduly harsh and require expulsion or even prosecution for relatively minor offenses.

It’s hard to prove causation; it’s possible that students who misbehave would have ended up in academic trouble no matter how they were punished. But studies show that suspended or expelled students were twice as likely to drop out compared to students with similar characteristics at similar schools who had not been suspended.

Even when schools are not deliberately sending children into the juvenile justice system, non-stop disciplining makes it more likely they’ll end up there since their self-worth begins to crumble.


When a School Resource Officer has authority to arrest a student or refer a student to juvenile court as a form of discipline, that student enters the juvenile justice system pipeline. The student is more likely to get a juvenile record. Even if punishment for a first offense is light, punishment for a second offense is likely to be much harsher.

After family, school is the second most important and formative socialization site where children and adolescents learn norms for appropriate behavior as well as receiving moral guidance from authority figures.


Removing students from the safety and structure school provides as a form of discipline takes students out of this formative environment depriving them of skill building opportunities.

“Students who present behavioral issues at school often experience a cluster of stressors such as familial, economic, health care and communal lack. Hastening their entry into the justice system rather than addressing the roots of their lack and providing wraparound support stunts rather than fosters their development,” – said South Florida based Mental Health Counselor Lori Moldovan, RMHCI.


We need to shutdown the pipeline and come up with a new way of doing things:

● One which does not treat students like criminals, which does not equate bad behavior with criminality.

● One which does not target Black and Brown children for incarceration at an early age.

● One which does not place children in brutal, filthy jails and prisons where their needs are neglected, and they are subjected to pervasive violence, sexual abuse and psychological torture.

It should come as no surprise that nationally, since 1990, spending on prisons has increased three times as quickly as spending on education, hmmm…

Criminalizing students comes at a steep cost to taxpayers. Confining a single young person can cost as much as $148,767 a year, according to a recent survey of 46 states by the Justice Policy Institute.

Since we all too often make policy decisions based upon the dollar, shutting down the pipeline makes economic sense. And, as a bonus, we can stop causing irrevocable damage to so many of these kids.

This column is by Ritchie Lucas, Founder of The Student Success Project and Think Factory Consulting. He can be reached at 305-788-4105 or email at and on Facebook and You Tube as The Student Success Project. Lori Moldovan RMHCI can be reached at 786-747-2855. She works with adults, couples, teens and children with a wide-range of mental health issues.

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