School Psychology, Juvenile Justice, and the School to Prison Pipeline

Article excerpt

Juvenile offending is associatedwith several bleak outcomes, including highrates of continued crime and incarceration, substance use, andhigher mortality rates due to crime (Ramchand, Morral, & Becker, 2009). Academic achievement is a very important consideration in the area of crime and delinquency: Failure is associated with greater delinquency, and success is a protective factor (Foley, 2001). Over 80% of all juveniles and adults in the criminal justice system have experienced school failure or drop out (Coalition for Juvenile Justice, 2001). Most juvenile offenders are below grade level in academic skills, reading in particular, but the problem is likely broader, because other academic areas are not as well-studied (Christie, Jolivette & Nelson, 2005; Foley, 2001). Nearly one third of juvenile offenders who are in residential facilities have been expelled from school (Sedlak & McPherson, 2010). What might not be obvious is how frequently schools and juvenile justice systems both serve these academically vulnerable students. Based on population estimates gathered and presented by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP), only 14% of all youth involved in juvenile justice are in detention facilities. The vast majority of youth offenders are in juvenile probation services, often living with parents or guardians, eligible to attend schools in the community. These students are uniquely vulnerable to the effects of school factors that increase the risk for later delinquency - the "school to prison pipeline" (Christie et al., 2005).

The concept of the school to prison pipeline refers to systemic setbacks that gradually shepherd students away from positive school connections and academic success and into increasing criminal activity. For school psychologists, this becomes especially important in terms of social justice, a term that reflects advocacy intended to ensure fair distribution of resources and to help those who are at a disadvantage gain access to those resources (Shriberg et al., 2008). School psychologists are in a prime position to address social justice and fairness for these vulnerable students in particular, such as how discipline policies are corrective, punitive, or fair to all students. The issue of fairness and access also includes classroom and school climate, and how those aspects of schooling facilitate success and student engagement for all students. Advocacy for fairness for all students, a key aspect in social justice, is highly relevant in terms of professionalism, and is included in the ethical principles of practice of the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP, 2010). This article provides an overview of the key points with potential to interrupt the school to prison pipeline, including awareness of the barriers to resources, steps that facilitate positive outcomes and access for students, and resources for evidence-based practices.


The sizable proportion of students with low achievement, high discipline referrals, school drop out, and juvenile offending is striking. There is long-standing concern about how low academic achievement levels are for juvenile offender populations (Katsiyannis, Ryan, Zhang, 8c Spann, 2008). While the average age of the adjudicated youth is 15 years (approximately 10th grade), the average reading level is 4th grade or lower (Vacca, 2008). Similarly, juvenile justice facilities often serve the very students that display the disruptive behaviors that schools find the most challenging. In addition, students of color are disproportionately involved in juvenile justice and in school disciplinary actions, particularly exclusionary practices such as expulsion and suspension (Achilles, McLaughlin, 8c Croninger, 2007; Skiba, Michael, Nardo, 8c Peterson, 2002). Exclusionary discipline practices are associatedwith decreased school connection, one of the primary factors in drop out (American Psychological Association Task Force on Zero Tolerance, 2008). …


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