The “pipeline to prison” is a term used to describe the phenomenon in which students, particularly those who are marginalized and come from low-income families, are funneled out of schools and into the criminal justice system. This pipeline is characterized by a range of factors, including zero-tolerance policies, punitive disciplinary practices, biased law enforcement, and insufficient educational opportunities.

To avoid this pipeline, schools and communities can implement a range of evidence-based strategies. Below are some examples:

  1. Implement restorative justice practices: Restorative justice approaches prioritize repairing harm and building relationships rather than punishment. Research has shown that restorative justice practices can reduce disciplinary referrals, suspensions, and expulsions, and improve school climate and student outcomes (Mendelson, 2018).
  2. Provide mental health and counseling services: Many students who end up in the criminal justice system have unmet mental health needs. Schools can provide access to counseling and other mental health services to address these needs and prevent students from being pushed out of school. Research has shown that school-based mental health services can improve academic and behavioral outcomes and reduce involvement in the juvenile justice system (Atkins et al., 2010).
  3. Address implicit bias: Implicit biases can lead to disproportionate discipline for students of color and other marginalized groups. Schools can implement training programs to help educators recognize and address their biases. Research has shown that implicit bias training can reduce racial disparities in school discipline (Skiba et al., 2011).
  4. Provide quality education: Access to quality education is a key factor in preventing involvement in the criminal justice system. Schools can provide rigorous and engaging academic programs, as well as opportunities for career and technical education. Research has shown that quality education can reduce the likelihood of involvement in the criminal justice system (Kupchik & Ward, 2018).
  5. Foster positive relationships: Positive relationships with adults and peers can be protective factors against involvement in the criminal justice system. Schools can implement programs to promote positive relationships and a sense of belonging among students. Research has shown that positive relationships can reduce the likelihood of involvement in the criminal justice system (Benbenishty & Astor, 2005).


Atkins, M. S., Hoagwood, K. E., Kutash, K., & Seidman, E. (2010). Toward the integration of education and mental health in schools. Administration and Policy in Mental Health and Mental Health Services Research, 37(1-2), 40-47.

Benbenishty, R., & Astor, R. A. (2005). School violence in context: Culture, neighborhood, family, school, and gender. Oxford University Press.

Kupchik, A., & Ward, G. (2018). The criminalization of education: Zero tolerance policies, police in schools, and the school-to-prison pipeline. Routledge.

Mendelson, T. (2018). School discipline reform in the United States: Is restorative justice the answer? Journal of Social Issues, 74(4), 802-821.

Skiba, R. J., Arredondo, M. I., & Williams, N. T. (2011). More than a metaphor: The contribution of exclusionary discipline to a school-to-prison pipeline. Equity & Excellence in Education, 44(4), 451-471.