Volume 102 - Issue 4 Georgetown Law Journal

Tracing the School-to-Prison Pipeline from Zero-Tolerance Policies to Juvenile Justice Dispositions

In recent years, schools have attempted to combat school violence and other behavioral problems by instituting harsh disciplinary policies and referring students to law enforcement. Civil rights advocates argue that these practices push students, especially students of color, “out of school and into the juvenile and criminal justice systems.” The process has come to be known as the school-to-prison pipeline.

Throughout the literature discussing this phenomenon, authors often reference juvenile justice systems in passing, but few studies have given in-depth attention to the specific practices within juvenile courts that perpetuate the school-to-prison pipeline. Accordingly, this Note takes a closer look at the connection between harsh disciplinary practices in schools and the dispositional processes that occur in juvenile justice systems. Part I examines zero-tolerance policies that push students out of schools in the first place. Part II explores the ways that students then enter juvenile courts. Part III discusses the guidelines and other factors that shape judges’ dispositional decisions, particularly when they handle minor crimes and violations of zero-tolerance policies. Finally, Part IV describes alternatives to punitive sanctions for juvenile offenders. Overall, this Note concludes that zero-tolerance policies and punitive juvenile justice dispositions fail to remedy the problems that they are meant to resolve.

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