School-To-Prison Pipeline

The school-to-prison pipeline is the disproportionate tendency of minor to become incarcerated because of increasingly harsh school (such as zero-tolerance) and municipal policies.

Adopting a responsive approach to discipline will help keep students in the classroom and out of the juvenile justice system.  This requires a shift in mindset.  The Schenectady City School District Code of Conduct is designed to help guide where disciplinary practices can become more responsive:

  • Adopt a social emotional lens.
  • Know your students and develop cultural competency.
  • Plan and deliver (or support) effective student-centered instruction.
  • Move the paradigm from punishment to development.
  • Resist the criminalization of school behavior.

District-wide responsive discipline policies are critical to stopping the school-to-prison pipeline.  When SCHOOL DISTRICT PERSONNEL become agents for change, they support teachers, counselors and building-level administrators to make these shifts.

TEACHERS have the most face-to-face contact with students and a front-line opportunity to interrupt the school-to-prison pipeline.  Instructional practice and discipline structure can keep kids in class or push them out.

From locating wrap-around services to understanding and uncovering issues that adversely affect students in the classroom, COUNSELORS are equipped to interrupt the school-to-prison pipeline through their work with both teachers and students.

Info graphic School to Prison Pipeline

Guide to Rerouting the Pipeline


Student is defiant and uses inappropriate language when verbally redirected.


Communication that we are personally offended

Emotional replies that focus on re-asserting adult authority over the student

Responses that conflate the student's disrespectful behavior with their personal identity and character traits.  Ex). "You're disrespectful" or "That's another example of you making a bad choice."

Referral for disciplinary action by another adult


Nonverbal communication that we won't let anything the students says in anger, cause us to be emotionally reactive toward them.  Ex) mindful breathing to model self-awareness and non-judgment

Offering even-tempered and predictable expressions of patience and respect. Ex). using empathetic listening and offering choice - "You're telling me that was really up-setting."  You can use X or Y as an in-class break to help yourself cool down.

Making a mental note about the situation that was so triggering for the students and committing to invest in relationship-building.  Ex). using topics of interest, humor, affection with the student at times when they are more emotionally regulated.

Taking actions that demonstrate sensitivity to and plans for addressing those issues in the future. Ex). adjusting seating arrangements to prevent conflict with same peer in the future; pre-setting students about expectations for discussion around emotionally provocative topic; planning 1:1 conference time to collaboratively problem-solve with the student and demonstrate that we may have somehow been part of the problem in the situation and hope we can be part of the solution through our respect for and interest in the student's point of view.


Student is frequently absent from or tardy to his first-period class and is failing.


Verbal and nonverbal communication (privately or publicly) of our judgement that the student's tardiness represents a character flaw

Actions that demonstrate zero tolerance or bring undue attention to a student's falling short of our expectations. Ex) when we refuse to admit a late student into class

Giving up on action planning to support the student Ex) failing to offer opportunities to make up missed work


Verbal and/or nonverbal communication (privately or publicly) of our belief that we all do well when we can, and that there are lots of reasons people might have a problem with lateness

Actions that demonstrate a restorative "doing with" approach that involves limit-setting and discipline.

Insistence on check-ins or conferences with the student to collaboratively problem-solve and focus on why their attendance matters paired with high encouragement and nurture.

Ex). consistent expressions of empathy for the student and faith that together we can work toward personal growth with both attendance and academic improvements

Committing to ongoing work on the home-school partnership and school-wide efforts at reducing barriers to school attendance and achievement, with recognition that these problems often represent manifestations of social justice and everyday hassles that SCSD students and families have disproportionately been faced with navigating over multiple generations.

Source:  Adapted from Teaching Tolerance, Code of Conduct, A Guide to Responsive Discipline,

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