Let’s work together to close the school-to-prison pipeline.
Let’s create a better atmosphere for our children and youth, and build a better future for New Mexico. Child well-being in New Mexico is at the bottom of the barrel nationally, and many of our students are being funneled directly from schools into the prison system. Together we can improve educational outcomes across New Mexico, close the school-to-prison pipeline, and build a better future for our communities.
The “school-to-prison pipeline” is the result of various factors that pushes students out of the school system and into the criminal and juvenile justice systems. This is largely due to harsh punishments for minimal offenses, which criminalize and stigmatize students at a young age. “Zero-tolerance” policies criminalize minor infractions of school rules, while cops on campus lead to students being criminalized for behavior that should be handled inside the school. We have also seen suspensions and expulsions skyrocket, affecting younger and younger students. This is a disturbing trend, as young people placed in the prison system are 70% more likely to re-enter it later in life.
Statistics reflect that these policies, much like the criminal justice system itself, disproportionately target students of color and those with a history of abuse, neglect, poverty or learning disabilities. This is the modern era of subtle and structural racial discrimination of our students.
For most students, the pipeline begins with inadequate resources in public schools. Overcrowded classrooms, under-supported teachers, overbearing standardized testing, and insufficient funding all work to lock students into second-rate educational environments. This leads to disengagement and dropouts, increasing the risk of later court involvement. In fact, policies like the No Child Left Behind Act incentivize the push-put of low-performing students to boost overall test scores.
Students need respect and guidance, and many would benefit from additional educational and counseling services. Instead, they are isolated, punished, and pushed out. Naturally, this causes students to feel undervalued and unwanted in school. By creating policies and collaborating together to support schools, we can close the school-prison pipeline, decrease truancy, and increase graduation rates. Being proactive and preventive makes a better future for everybody.
We need to demonstrate how much we value our youth, so that they can appreciate their own worth and break the cycle of oppression that many of them experience. Criminalization of youth perpetuates the idea that their lives aren’t valuable, or that they are a lesser part of society. Let’s demonstrate a better path forward from an early age; because once they’re in the criminal system, the cycle is not easily broken.
The solutions to the school-to-prison pipeline will involve all of us- students, parents, teachers, and the community as a whole. We have an opportunity to invest in our schools through things like cultural literacy, parent engagement efforts, and alternatives to suspension. Don’t invest in failing programs- invest in addressing root causes like poverty. Let’s reengage people who fear or have lost faith in our schools. To keep our students out of the courts, let’s bring them to the table and make them a part of the solution. Let’s encourage them to share their stories, without fear of reprisal, so that we can empower them and invert the cycle of oppression from within.