Education or Criminalization?

By Nairi Azaryan, Communications Intern

A pipeline is a human made structure, moving substance swiftly and uninterrupted from point A to B. The school to prison pipeline does just that, sending young children of color, disproportionately girls, from school to incarceration. It exists as infrastructure to institutionalized racism, reinforcing the subordination of women of color. Currently, more than 200,000 women are in prisons, and their incarceration rate is double that of men. Women of color suffer disproportionately, and are incarcerated at triple the rate of white women.

The beginning of this pipeline starts in low income, majority non-white neighborhoods, where funding and resources for public schools are low. Children of color who grow up in poverty face trauma and other developmental experiences different than that of their higher income, white peers. Growing up in foster homes, dealing with hunger, and the overall stress and trauma that result from the struggle to survive economically have effects on students that schools are not prepared to handle.

According to the African American Policy Forum’s report “Black Girls Matter”, girls of color, particularly black girls, face experiences both similar to, as well as different from, their male counterparts. Girls face interpersonal violence, such as bullying and sexual assault, both at home and in schools, making it harder for them to finish school. They are also more likely to receive less positive attention from educators compared to their male counterparts as a result of being perceived as older and thus more self reliant. Girls of color, unfortunately, face not only the effects of their race and class, but also their gender.

Many schools have zero-tolerance policies that disproportionately criminalize young girls of color, offering “punitive rather than restorative responses to conflict” (AAPF). For instance, if these students get into a physical fight on school grounds, often the response will be to bring in law enforcement, resulting in the suspension or expulsion of the students, and in more severe cases, prosecution.Their reactions to trauma are criminalized instead of understood.

What these schools fail to see is that these students need care, counseling, and education.They need counselors who will listen to them, and educators who prioritize education instead of discipline. Not police monitoring the hallways. Not metal detectors at the entrance to school. Not security guards tackling students who won’t put away their phones. Not detention, suspension, and expulsion. When schools act as prisons, students are put on track for dropping out of school and entering juvenile detention centers, eventually making their way into prisons across America. As NOW President Terry O’Neill states in her piece about the sex abuse to prison pipeline, “it’s time we spend less resources controlling girls and more on providing the care and support they need.”

The intersecting identities these students hold, being female and being of color, inform their lives in a very nuanced way- a way that is much different than boys of color and white girls. We need an intersectional lens on feminism in order to see this, and must be a constantly learning, struggling, and fighting in order to help lift all women up from subordination and the various direct and structural factors that keep them down.

2 Responses to “Education or Criminalization?”

  1. Nancy and Les Larsen

    We continue to exacerbate problems rather than create solutions. We continue to act from fear and ignorance rather than intelligence and love. SAD.

  2. Ben

    The article you link regarding the assertion that women’s incarceration rate is double that of men’s links to data suggesting that the “increase in the rate of incarceration is double that of men.” What you state and what the data state are not the same thing. You (and the article you link to) are speaking to a rate, while the data are speaking to a rate of change of that rate. Those are completely different things. Yes, the incarceration rate’s *change* is about double that of men. But the incarceration rate of women is less than 10% that of men.

    The raw data probably came from here:

    The table on page 4 shows that women’s percent change was nearly double that of men. But see page 7 – the incarceration rate of men was about 14 times that of women in 2013.


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