The School-to-Prison Pipelines in Our Backyards

by Alex Melnick
arts & life editor

The school-to-prison pipeline, or as freshmen Krystal Jackson puts it, “the cradle to prison pipeline,” is a prevalent problem in low-income schools across the nation.  Despite the Jackson Public School System’s best attempts, Jackson schools are no exception.

     Readers may be able to recall the most infamous case of the school-to-prison pipeline’s presence in Mississippi, a 2012 Meriden case, where the town was suedby the Department of Justice for sending students to detention centers for infractions such as violating dress code or talking back the teachers. In some communities, this sort of human rights denial is the norm and not the exception.

     But what exactly is the school-to-prison to pipeline? The American Civil Liberties Union defines it as the practice of sending disadvantaged students to detention centers for minor infractions and thus locking them out of the education system. This is seen in both the emerging trend of schools’ enacting “zero tolerance” policies which criminalize what could arguably be seen as normal teenage behavior, and in the presence of police officers in schools.

     The school-to-prison system is here in Jackson as well. Jackson, a Millsaps student, explains that in our own town, the pipeline is “a whole pathology that says if a child can’t read by grade three at or above their grade level, then they’re not going to be anything in life. and you might as well prepare a prison bed for them.”  Jackson says the policy needlessly places minority students in detention facilities, and asserts that most of community members with children in JPS are aware of this phenomenon. “It’s not some underground thing,” Jackson claims.

     Jackson explains that in certain low-performing JPS middle schools and high schools, students can often slip through the cracks or be targeted by teachers unconsciously for expulsion and/or placement in the juvenile justice system. She recalls things she overheard about certain schools that have a reputation for producing low-achieving students with high incarnation rates: “I remember one these girls did something you could kind of consider a crime, but it was not something where you should take her to an alternative school. She pulled a pen on a girl when she was in a fight, and the principal made her leave.”

     Reflecting on her own experiences, Jackson says, “There have been issues from middle school up. It’s a whole stereotyping thing. It’s that guy sagging his pants, or that girl who carries herself in a way that is ‘suspicious.’”

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Devin Winsett, hard at work.

 Many members of Millsaps share Jackson’s sentiments regarding the pipeline. Junior Devin Winsett, alongside with a cohort of many Millsaps students, plan to take part in the Dignity in Schools Campaign this October, from October 4 to the 10. “I’ve had the opportunity to meet many kids in juvenile detention centers, most of whom are there for minor offenses that one would expect to result in being sent to the principal’s office or being punished by a parent,” Winsett says. “Instead, they’re isolated in what resembles cages, with any rights that had taken away. It diminishes their self-worth, and increases the likelihood that they fail to complete their education and live a normal life.” Winsett pauses, and adds: “Youth detention facilities are overwhelmingly populated with young, African-American men. This is not a true representation of youth that commit crime; it is only a representation of racism and classism.”  

     Amnesty International, along with organizations such as Millsaps Pride and 1C1C, is looking to start a dialogue about the school-to-prison pipeline this October, and hopes the Millsaps community will join in. Current ideas for how to best do so include a  teach-in at Soul Wired Café, where members of Midtown and Millsaps can discuss how the pipeline affects all of Jackson, and contacting other groups within the state working to combat this pipeline. Amnesty International also hopes to join Tugaloo and Jackson State University in this endeavor, and  begin rebuild the ties our schools once shared