Skip to content Skip to navigation

Dismantling the school-to-prison pipeline

Photo of child in classroom with empty desks
Photo: A-Digit / Getty Images

Dismantling the school-to-prison pipeline

Peter Williamson talks about why students of color are disproportionately pushed out of schools and into the prison system.

The school-to-prison pipeline refers to a phenomenon in the United States in which students from disadvantaged backgrounds are incarcerated at disproportionately high rates because of harsh school disciplinary policies. How did we get here, and what can we do about it? 

Students are funneled from schools to the streets, often by getting suspended, and end up getting caught up in the juvenile justice system, says Peter Williamson, an associate professor at Stanford Graduate School of Education (GSE) and faculty director of the Stanford Teacher Education Program (STEP) for secondary teachers.

“We know that there is a real cycle that starts there,” says Williamson. “Once you've been caught by that system, you often return to it.” 

On this episode of School’s In, Williamson joins GSE Dean Dan Schwartz and Senior Lecturer Denise Pope to talk about the school-to-prison pipeline and the role of institutionalized racism, societal norms around punishment and outdated disciplinary policies.

At the school level, teachers and administrators need training to assess why students are acting out. “The alternative is we pathologize the child and call them a troublemaker. Now we’ve given them a label, and that label leads to all sorts of things,” says Williamson.

You can listen to School's In on SiriusXM Insight channel 121, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher and Soundcloud.

Get the Educator

Subscribe to our monthly newsletter.

Back to the Top