School-to-Prison Pipeline: Educational Disparities and their Effects on the Mental Health of African American Males

A Research Brief by: Isaiah Walker

IWThe mental health of African American males from preschool to high school has been negatively affected by the introduction of policies designed to "push out" black male students from the classroom and into the juvenile justice system. During early education, the pipeline begins to cast doubt in the minds of young black men in the form of hopelessness, worthlessness, and symptoms of depression. Once incarcerated, these mental health conditions will only continue to deteriorate. "Compared to other African-American men, those who have been incarcerated have 14 percent, 13 percent and 16 percent higher severity of depression, distress and discrimination, respectively." (Thomas) The most terrifying part is that this can happen anywhere, anytime and it can affect as many black make students as we allow it too.

The pipeline is rooted in school discipline, from suspensions and expulsions to arrests. "...many school districts have adopted a zero-tolerance approach to school code violations. The result is a near doubling of the number of students suspended annually from school... an increase in the presence of police in schools, and the enactment of new laws mandating referral of children to law enforcement authorities..." (Wald and Losen). The acceptance of these policies ended up disproportionately affecting the African American male population in multiple ways. "... reported the findings of a national survey showing that while African American males composed 8.23% of the total student population, they received corporal punishment and were suspended at rates over three times their percentage in the population." (Townsend). All of these practices and policies coupled with a failing school system build a structure that sets up black male students for failure.

Some interventions that have proven effective include "...look beyond specific disciplinary incidents to address broader school climate issues... Restorative justice practices (e.g. community service)... limit police involvement in schools... Tracking discipline data at the district and/or state level... Additional training for school personnel, particularly police officers and school resource officers..." (Contractor and Staats). Another important intervention is "The first step toward dismantling the pipeline is to take a critical look at existing school discipline policies, the actual practices of schools and law enforcement, and the impact of those policies and practices." (Legal Defense and Educational Fund). Using these interventions can help save a student from heading down the wrong path. Measures of success for these proposed interventions include: increased high school graduation rates, increased rate of college attrition, and increased retention rates in schools. Other findings state that the use of bias training for administrators and educators could greatly decrease the amount of times students of color will be subject to unfair punitive punishment.

There are multiple ways to continue this research and have an active part in eradicating the overall issue. Some organizations aimed at fighting the pipeline include Students Rights Alliance, Project 2nd Chance, and the American Bar Association. I would like to acknowledge the University of Michigan Summer Enrichment Program for all of their help and encouragement.