From Push Out to Lock Up: North Carolina's Accelerated School-to-Prison Pipeline
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A good education is the foundation for successful life experiences. Children who graduate from high school have significantly brighter outcomes during adulthood. On measures of health, income and employment, adults who have completed more years of formal schooling consistently perform better than those with fewer years of education.
More than 80 percent of today’s fastest-growing and highest-paying jobs require postsecondary education or training. In the 21st century global economy, a high school diploma and resultant skills to succeed in college and the workplace are essential. And yet, each year far too many students in North Carolina fail to graduate on time with their peers. Studies have shown a link between juvenile and adult criminal system involvement and dropouts. A student arrested in high school is twice as likely to leave school early or to be pushed out, and a court involved high school student is four times as likely to drop out of school as his or her peers. Although juvenile delinquency has declined across the nation and the state, the percentage of complaints filed against juveniles that originate in North Carolina public schools continues to rise.
The funneling of students from schools to jail or prison is a national phenomenon that has come to be called the school-to-prison pipeline. North Carolina’s pipeline differs from that in most other states because it deposits 16- and 17-year-old students directly into the adult criminal system, regardless of the severity of their alleged offense. Juveniles who are prosecuted in the adult system are more likely to reoffend, and to commit more serious crimes when they do, than youth who receive age-appropriate treatment and rehabilitation through the juvenile justice system. The stigma of an adult criminal record erects barriers that, in many cases, prevent young people from reintegrating into society, successfully transitioning into the workforce or pursuing advanced education or training.
The school-to-prison pipeline leaks talent and potential from North Carolina’s future workforce, while limiting the trajectory of many of our students’ lives. Investing in dismantling the school-to-prison pipeline is good policy because it ensures that students become productive and contributing members of society. At a time when businesses face an increasingly competitive global marketplace, it is imperative that every student in North Carolina graduates from high school prepared to pursue college and career success.
This report presents a statewide overview of the various segments in North Carolina’s school-to-prison pipeline that move vulnerable students into the court system: underfunded schools, harsh discipline, increased policing of school hallways and a lack of adequate intervention programs or alternative education placements. The final section of the report proposes four recommendations to begin dismantling the school-to-pipeline:
- Raise the age of juvenile court jurisdiction from 16 to 18 for youth who commit misdemeanor offenses;
- Implement evidence based reforms to ensure equitable treatment for all students in North Carolina;
- Improve data collection and reporting requirements to better inform school administrators, parents and policymakers; and
- Establish a legislative task force on school discipline policies.