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School-to-Prison Pipeline in a Global Context or solely a United States Problem?

Updated: Oct 14, 2018

When researching the school-to-prison pipeline more thoroughly, I started to wonder if other countries have this mass incarceration problem? As it turns out, the United States is the leading nation when it comes to incarcerating its citizens. I was then not surprised to find little information about how other countries incarcerate their youth. The United States has the most school shootings than any other country and each state has its own incarceration rate which contributes to the overall school-to-prison pipeline issue. When school shootings started happening, more police were brought into schools. However, this then lead to higher arrest rates within these schools instead of helping children improve their behavior.

I then came across this graph which is shocking! The Prison Policy Initiative computed for 2018 what it would be like if each state was a country in terms of its incarceration rate. These graphs then compare those state incarceration rates to different countries around the world to place this idea of mass incarceration on a global level.


The incarceration for Louisiana did not surprise me since the Angola Penitentiary is located there and it has been using prison labor for years. Yet, I do think it is odd that over twenty states themselves arrest at a higher rate per hundred thousand people than the United States in general.

Compared to the United States, the first other nation that comes close to the rate of 698 is El Salvador with 614. Then, only seven other countries have rates between 374 to 614 before the rates drastically drop for most countries to have a rate of 325 or less.

The United States also has a correlation between low performing schools and high incarceration rates in many states. Alliance for Excellent Education describes the statistics here

Shocking Facts

For instance in California as of 2014...

- Dropouts are 3.5 times more likely to be arrested than high school graduates

- California is expected to spend more than $62,000 on each prison inmate, almost 7 times the $9,200 it will spend for each K-12 student (2014-15)


WHY are students getting arrested globally?

Saudi Arabia

-Women and girls have less freedoms in their society

Peru and Mexico

-Same-sex partnerships and sex

-Survival sex (for food, shelter, and other necessities)

Peru, El Salvador, Chile, Ecuador, Philippines

-High incidents of rape, and abortions are illegal

International laws state that juveniles need to be detained for as short of a time as possible based on their offenses. However, "children may receive life sentences in 73 countries, including the US and 49 of the 53 states in the Commonwealth of Nations, a 2015 study by the Child Rights International Network (CRIN) found," (Human Rights Watch).

When looked at in a global context, it is evident that the United States has more arrests and that the school-prison-pipeline is a problem. What makes it more of a problem is that students are getting arrested for behaviors in school rather than sex related or resource crimes like other countries listed above. What makes this issue hard to analysis and quantify is in terms of incarceration rate of juveniles not every country or state is using the same criteria. For example, not every country has a juvenile court system, like Zambia. Other countries have different ages for who is considered a juvenile and for what crimes can those juveniles qualify as adults. Even within the United States, state laws vary between juvenile detention standards.


Another thing to consider with the school-to-prison pipeline is implicit bias, racism, and sexism. In countries that are more homogeneous when compared to the United States, those countries do not have preconceived notions about how someone is more or less "criminal" like a society based on multicultural interactions contains. In the United States, black males tend to suffer the most even from a young age as they are more likely to be incarcerated as further describes here.


Then I saw a video like this, about a non-research based practice used in Georgia in the United States. The United States has problems with their incarceration system due to not agreeing with the purpose of the criminal justice system and how harsh it is on children. Parents used jail in this video as a traumatic event and fear tactic to scare students about going to prison.

Overall, the school-to-prison pipeline issue in America is not an issue globally, it is a United States problem. The United States leads with the highest incarceration rates in the world and some states within the United States have higher incarceration rates than the country as a whole. Age and what is considered criminal are two may factors that define why students and children are arrested. Currently the United States, when compared to other countries is having problems with implicit bias in which students are "criminal" and sentencing students for behaviors that I would not begin to consider criminal, but rather children learning how to behave.

Questions to consider:

-Are teachers the sole people that are responsible to shape the behavior of America's future citizens?

-What is the role of family structure and parental involvement when students act out?

-When should students be placed in jail rather than rehabilitation programs or staying in schools?

What are your thoughts? My next blog post will be about ways to help stop the school-to-prison pipeline issue!

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