There is No Pipeline, Schools are Prisons

We are told there is a pipeline in the United States that travels from our school system to our criminal justice system. Correct as the data corroborating the pipeline’s existence may be, it is a flawed way of conceptualizing the issue. There is no pipeline out of schools and into prisons, because schools and prisons in this country are not conceptually separable.

Every child is mandated to receive an education with the threat of reprisal by the judicial system if they fail to. Children are thus coerced into attending a learning center, almost none of which adequately meet the educational needs of children. Some opt for public school “alternatives” like homeschooling or private schools, but the model of education is still generally the same and attendance is vigorously enforced. Through forced schooling, children are largely deprived of the ability to engage with the world and learn by means of play. They must cease the process of seeking fulfillment of genuine desires and begin one of alienation from their natural curiosity.

The consequences are shockingly apparent in a case out of Columbia, South Carolina where a police officer at a public high school physically manhandled a young black girl. The scene: A female student sits passively in her chair while the officer demands she stand. The lead-up to the incident is irrelevant. Insubordination to authority in schools is an inevitability for any child with a mind and drive of her own. For having such a mind and drive of her own (“resisting” in law enforcement-speak) the student was grabbed by the neck, slammed to the ground and dragged across the classroom, all while still partially connected to her desk.

Once again, this is not abnormal behavior. Disobedience is something youth do well and often. The response to disobedience, insubordination, and general independent-streaks at any school usually boils down to authoritative command and punishment. Physical assault on children is not legal in all schools, but it is in 19 states. Each year, over 800 children are assaulted legally and as a matter of policy at their schools. In South Carolina, it is legal to handcuff students for simply being loud.

In addition to the female assault victim in the South Carolina incident, the classmate who filmed the shocking video was also later arrested and held on bail. She was kidnapped for filming what was, by any reasonable standard, child abuse. Why was this allowed to happen? Her charge was “Disturbing school.” Please allow this to fully register. Non-violent, peaceful actions by children are construed as attacks on the supposed civility of school.

This officer’s assault is not an aberration; it is how schools treat students. They have no freedom to leave. Anyone who escapes is treated as a fugitive. They are permitted to go home, but this does not change the striking similarities between prisons and schools. It is now regular for schools to have guards — some are cops hired out and some are the schools’ own security staff. Students are filed along corridors and into rooms in such a way as to surveil and control their flow of activity.

People of color are far more likely to find themselves physically assaulted by staff in schools. They are more likely to receive punishment than their white counterparts for the same behavior, and as a result, they begin to recognize the system’s perception of them as marked criminals. Eventually, many are sent to even more coercive penal environments, where the violence and authoritarianism from the administration only escalates. Many students are lucky enough to avoid the transition from educational to criminal detention centers. But far too many either aren’t able to successfully navigate the educational-police state, or have the deck stacked against them from the outset. Their fate is a sad and unnecessary one.

There is no pipeline from school to prison. Some are just forced to stay in class.

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