Will Obama’s Gun Control Agenda Worsen the School-to-Prison Pipeline?


Although President Barack Obama received praise for finally putting forward a comprehensive aggressive gun control agenda in the wake of the Newtown massacre, when 20 schoolchildren were gunned down, some civil rights advocates expressed concern last week that a portion of that agenda could hinder the education of students of color by exacerbating the school-to-prison pipeline.

The school-to-prison pipeline, which involves the use of harsh school discipline policies, which disproportionately target students of color, results in students being pushed out of school and into the criminal justice system unnecessarily.

The criticism from civil rights groups was leveled at a portion of  Obama’s gun proposal, which calls for making federal funds available to place 1,000 counselors and police officers in the nation’s public schools, Colorlines reports.

For years, civil rights groups have been battling the school-to-prison pipeline and the use of harsh discipline policies where students are suspended, expelled and sent to juvenile court for minor issues like disobeying authority, unruly behavior, tardiness or violating dress codes.

Harsh discipline policies and zero-tolerance policies have been shown to disproportionately target Black and Latino students.  And missing out on valuable school time due to overly punitive policies and unnecessary referrals to juvenile courts put children at an academic disadvantage, cause them to have negative association with their schools, and perhaps, dropout, while introducing them to the criminal justice system.

In some schools, school-based police officers, referred to as school resource officers, are tasked with issuing tickets, summonses and even arresting students for minor infractions.

Laura Murphy director of the ACLU’s Washington Legislative Office, told Colorlines about the concerns the ACLU has of Obama’s proposal.

“We fear that neutral sounding safety policies, such as putting more cops in school will lead to the over-incarceration of school-age children, especially students of color and students with disabilities, who are disproportionately arrested and prosecuted for issues that would normally be handled by school administrators.”

Meanwhile, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell created a task force that’s considering putting an armed officer in every school in the state, WAMU reports. Currently 47 percent of schools in Virginia have an officer in the schools. 

--Keith Rushing

Photo Courtesy of ACLU of Southern California