Inside Story America

The US’ school to prison pipeline

Are punitive school discipline policies pushing children out of education and into the criminal justice system?

Is an over-reliance on punitive school discipline policies pushing children out of education and into the criminal justice system?
For the first time, a US congressional panel is looking into what the American Civil Liberties Union calls a disturbing trend – one that criminalises rather than educates many US children.

“Kids are being kicked out for very minor offences very often …. There are kids who have been arrested in New York City for writing on a desk …. The problem starts with something that is clearly not a violation of the law and then escalates …. For example, we’ve seen cases where some kid is violating the school dress code, a police officer will question them and that escalates into ultimately the kid being handcuffed.

– Dennis Parker, from the American Civil Liberties Union

The so-called ‘school to prison pipeline’ has been linked to zero tolerance policies that remove teachers’ discretion over how to discipline student misbehaviour.

School-based arrests, disciplinary alternative schools and secured detention are also blamed.

Campaigners say the policy has seen children suspended for minor infractions – marginalising at-risk youth and denying them access to education.

They add that it leaves them more likely to end up in prison as adults.

What is more, the burden of the trend falls disproportionately on students of colour.

Edward Ward, a Chicago youth organiser, explains: “I’ve actually seen where in schools they treat the students like prisoners. And when you treat students like prisoners or criminals, you don’t get results, you get consequences.

“And so as a result of the students constantly being treated like criminals, their voices are not being heard, they are being suspended for minor infractions such as not wearing the proper identification around their necks, when they come to school late they are being placed in these detention centres, where it seems like it is solitary confinement.

“Research shows that students of colour are being suspended more frequently than white students for minor infractions.”

So, is there a school to prison pipeline in the US?

Joining the show to discuss this are guests: Dennis Parker, the director of the Racial Justice Programme at the American Civil Liberties Union, and Hubert Williams, the former president of the Police Foundation.

Also on this show, more on the HSBC money laundering scandal and just how that helped Mexico’s booming drug cartels. 

On Tuesday, the bank agreed a settlement of $1.9bn – a record amount, but still a drop in the ocean in terms of HSBC’s worth.

But it also emerged that between 2002 and 2009, HSBC had classified Mexico as the lowest risk in its money-laundering rankings – allowing cartels to escape reviews of cash transfers.

In all, it is thought that hundreds of millions of dollars from Mexican drug gangs – and especially the Sinaloa cartel – was allowed to flow into the US, even though the bank had the resources to limit the risk.

And HSBC is not the only bank that has helped the cartels. In 2010, the US Wachovia bank was sanctioned for failing to properly monitor more than $378bn worth of exchanged cash from Mexico.

Peter Watt is the author of Drug War Mexico and is investigating the role of the financial industry in the rise of Mexico’s cartels. We ask him how HSBC became the preferred bank for the drug gangs.

“The banks, because of the [global financial] crisis, they need these liquid assets, and along come these organised crime syndicates and they are giving the banks cash essentially. It props [the banks] up and it gives them liquid assets. I spoke to one former financial crime investigator from Scotland Yard a few weeks ago and he suggested to me that really no Western governments are going to clamp down on this because the banks need those assets otherwise they are going to go under …. So, in some cases the banks are looking the other way, in some cases they are actively seeking out hot money.”

Peter Watt, the author of Drug War Mexico