Dismantling the

School-to-Prison Pipeline


Black Girls

Stephanie Miodus, M.A., M.Ed., Meredith Weber, Ph.D., NCSP, & Stephanie Joseph, M.A., M.Ed.


The school-to-prison pipeline represents the “intersection of [the] educational system and juvenile justice system.” It is the disproportionate disciplinary actions and exclusions from school of students with marginalized identities, in particular Black/African American students (Kim et al, 2010). This practice puts students of color disproportionately at risk for entry into the justice system. Girls are often left out of this conversation; however, female students of color are disproportionately funneled to the juvenile justice system instead of receiving needed mental health, academic, or social support. Black girls, particularly, continue to be adversely impacted by the disproportionate disciplinary policies and over-policing in schools (Hill, 2018; Parks et al, 2016; Crenshaw et al, 2015). Research shows that Black girls are 6-7 times more likely to receive an out-of-school suspension compared to their White counterparts and receive more severe sentences in the juvenile justice system (Hill, 2018; Crenshaw et al, 2015). The exclusion of Black girls from the school-to-prison narrative is represented in the lack of research in this area. The failure to include them as part of this discussion undermines Black girls’ ability to access the resources and interventions they need (Hill, 2018; Crenshaw et al, 2015). This symposium seeks to address this gap by focusing on how Black girls are affected by the school-to-prison pipeline by offering multiple perspectives on the issue that can help inform the roles of practitioners, researchers, educators, and advocates in working to reduce the violence of the school-to-prison pipeline and build more peaceful, restorative school communities.

Examining the Literature on the School-to-Prison Pipeline for Black Girls

Stephanie Joseph, M.A., M.Ed.

Temple University

A review of the current literature on the school-to-prison pipeline as it pertains to Black girls specifically will be presented. The aim will be to provide participants with a comprehensive overview of the research on disproportionate disciplinary practices (e.g., Annamma et al., 2019) and resulting pushout (Morris, 2016), as well as the existing gaps in the literature. The results of this review will then be used to discuss what future directions are still needed to address the gaps in school-to-prison pipeline research around Black girls specifically.


The school-to-prison pipeline discussion often neglects the ways in which black girls are disproportionately and unfairly disciplined by the U.S. education system.

How Systems Are Failing Black Girls

  • Punitive school discipline practices demonstrate patterns of racialized inequities.

  • Recent statistics indicate that school officials evaluate Black girls more critically than other females (Annamma et al., 2016).

  • Morris & Perry (2017) reported that school officials are more likely to cite Black girls for less serious but more ambiguous behavior than White girls who are disciplined for more serious offenses.

  • Examples:

    • 8-year-old girl in Illinois was arrested for acting out – 2013

    • 12-year-old girl was threatened with expulsion from an Orlando private school unless she changed the look of her natural hair – 2013

    • Florida Police Officer arrested and handcuffed a 6-Year-Old for tantrum – 9/23/19

    • 4 black and Latinx 12-year-old girls strip-searched at East middle school in Binghamton, NY – 01/15/19

    • Teenage girl jailed after not doing homework – 07/15/20


  • The school-to-prison pipeline is the path through which unfair treatment of children and adolescents leads to involvement in the criminal justice system.

  • In the US, Black girls experience disproportionate disciplined practices more than any other group of students.

  • Preschool: Black girls make up 20% of girls enrolled, but account for 54% of girls suspended from preschool (Camera, 2017).

  • Overall, Black girls are 16% of girls in schools, but account for:

    • 42% of girls receiving corporal punishment

    • 42% of girls expelled with or without educational services

    • 45% of girls with at least one out-of-school suspension

    • 31% of girls referred to law enforcement

    • 34% of girls arrested on campus (Anderson, 2016)

  • To put it into more perspective: Research reveals that Black girls, even as young as toddlers, are seen as being less innocent than their White peers of the same age (Patrick & Schulman 2018) .

  • At the intersection of an intersection:

    • Institutionalized racism, compounded with invisibility, intersectionality (double minority status), and stereotyping of Black girls that occur from school officials (Collins, 2000; Crenshaw, 1989).

    • Their attitudes, beliefs, and implicit bias are transformed into behaviors and practices, exacerbated by Zero Tolerance policies.

      • These translate into into expulsions and suspensions, feeding the school-to-prison pipeline (Annamma et al., 2016).

Pushing of Black Girls Out of Schools into Prisons

  • A Well-established Link:

    • Between the use of punitive disciplinary measures and subsequent patterns of criminal supervision and incarceration [AKA School-to-Prison Pipeline].

  • Punitive school policies lead to low achievement, dropping out, system involvement, and other negative outcomes.

  • AND Black girls receive more severe sentences when they enter the juvenile justice system than do members of any other group of girls.

    • They are the fastest growing population in the system.

  • These traumatizing and stressful incidents can have a profound impact on behavior and learning.

The Gaps in the Literature

  • There is a need for more and targeted focus/exploration of the education and educational experiences of Black girls.

  • Additional research on how restorative educational practices and/or trauma-informed practices can benefit Black girls in school.

  • An exploration of an intersectional approach to understand social/school bonding and its effects on discipline and other school-related misconduct

    • Utilize intersectional frameworks to center more diverse populations in discipline research.

  • Comprehensive examination of the disciplinary experiences of women & girls of color.

  • Quantitative and qualitative methodology to evaluate more nuanced understandings of the discipline gap (Annamma et al., 2019; Onyeka-Crawford et al., 2017).

Impact of Disproportionate Discipline and Over-Policing of Black Girls

Meredith Weber, Ph.D., NCSP

Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine

Participants will have the opportunity to bear witness to oral histories and experiences of young Black women who have been impacted by the school-to-prison pipeline in an effort to reflect on the real-world impact of harsh disciplinary practices in schools. The discussion will also focus on academic, emotional, and psychological implications of disproportionate discipline and over-policing of Black girls in schools. Relevant issues, including trauma (e.g., Baumle, 2018; Saar et al., 2015), physical and sexual abuse (e.g., Simkins et al., 2004), and intersectional issues, such as Black girls with disabilities (e.g., Haight et al., 2016), will be addressed.


Disciplinary disproportionality encompasses the disproportionately high rates at which students from certain racial/ethnic groups are subjected to office discipline referrals, suspensions, school arrests, and expulsion (Skiba et al., 2012).

How does bias play out in schools?

Dangerous assumptions about African American boys and girls

  • As a result of “adultification,” African American students are seen as older than they are and are more likely than their White counterparts to:

    • Be disciplined for subjective infractions

    • Be suspended

    • Be referred to juvenile justice/law enforcement vs. special education

    • In the legal system, more likely to be detained and less likely to have cases diverted

“Girlhood Interrupted” - Georgetown Law Center

“….adults view Black girls as less innocent and more adult-like than their White peers, especially in the age range of 5–14. “ (Georgetown Law Center, 2017, 2019)

  • Study shows dangerous assumptions:

    • Black girls need less nurturing

    • Black girls need less protection

    • Black girls need to be supported less

    • Black girls need to be comforted less

    • Black girls are more independent

    • Black girls know more about adult topics

    • Black girls know more about sex


Poverty and Bias in School Discipline

  • Mindset of “…the best way to help people escape poverty is to discipline them.” (Fergus, 2019, p. 32)

  • ”Culture of Poverty” argument

  • Poverty ≠ Trauma: Careful interpretation of research of disadvantages to children living in poverty

  • Vulnerability to trauma can increase with exposure but not the full story; don’t assume!!

Disability and Schools

  • 13 Categories of eligibility for special education under Federal Law:

    • Deafness

    • Hearing Impairment

    • Blindness/Visual Impairment

    • Deaf-Blindness

    • Speech-Language

    • Orthopedic Impairment

    • Autism

    • Emotional Disturbance

    • Specific Learning Disability

    • Traumatic Brain Injury

    • Intellectual Disability

    • Multiple Disabilities

    • Other Health Impairment

Trauma and the School-to-Prison Pipeline – How do they interact?

  • Students with traumatic stress reactions can often display behavior problems that may not be interpreted as reactions to trauma and stress.

  • Overly punitive discipline for these reactions can then serve to re-traumatize these students.

  • Students can experience trauma or may be exposed to de-stabilization as a result of being funneled to the juvenile justice system.

Sexual Abuse and Incarceration

  • Trauma reactions are criminalized.

  • Once incarcerated, the needs of girls coming in with post traumatic stress often not sufficiently treated.

  • Become re-traumatized, leave, and often re-enter system


  • Girls also disproportionality represented in the “Dually Involved” - girls are ¼ to 1/5 of juvenile justice system, but make up ½ to 1/3 of dually involved youth are girls

Disproportionality in Juvenile Justice Placement for Girls

  • Native American girls are in residential placements at a rate of 179 per 100,000;

  • African American girls at a rate of 123 per 100,000;

  • Latinas at a rate of 47 per 100,000.

  • Caucasian girls at a rate of 37 per 100,000

  • African American girls constitute 14 percent of the general population nationally but 33.2 percent of girls detained and committed.

  • Native American girls are also disproportionately involved in the juvenile justice system: they are 1 percent of the general youth population but 3.5 percent of detained and committed girls.

  • The disproportionate rates of confinement in residential placements for girls of color are most accurately revealed when viewed per capita: Native American girls are in residential placements at a rate of 179 per 100,000; African American girls at a rate of 123 per 100,000; and Latinas at a rate of 47 per 100,000. By comparison, 37 per 100,000 of non-Hispanic White girls are confined.


Supporting Black Girls Through Building Peaceful, Restorative School Communities

Stephanie Miodus, M.A., M.Ed.

Temple University

Participants will be provided with best practices and strategies (e.g., Blake et al., 2011) for supporting the unique academic, social-emotional, and psychological needs of Black girls in schools. Discussions will consider how trauma and violence intersect with school discipline (Wun, 2018) and how schools can support Black girls, especially those who are impacted by disproportionate disciplinary action and the juvenile justice system. Discussion of relevant policy and advocacy for dismantling the school-to-prison pipeline, such as calls to action for police-free schools (Advancement Project, 2018), and the impact building peaceful, restorative school communities could have for Black girls, will be presented.

Data-Based Needs Assessment

  • School administrators should conduct equity audits that aim to monitor disproportionality in discipline decisions (Skrla et al., 2008).

Culturally-Responsive Trauma-Informed Schools

  • National Child Traumatic Stress Network, Schools Committee (2017):

    • Realizing the widespread impact of trauma and pathways to recovery

    • Recognizing trauma signs and symptoms

    • Responding by integrating knowledge about trauma into all facets of the system

    • Resisting re-traumatization of trauma-impacted individuals by decreasing the occurrence of unnecessary triggers (i.e., trauma and loss reminders) and by implementing trauma-informed policies, procedures, and practices

  • Adults in schools should be asking “What happened to?” vs. “What’s Wrong with?” about students.

  • Practices benefit all students, not just those with trauma histories.

Prevent & Address Sexual Harassment of Black Girls in Schools

  • Black girls in a middle school reported verbal/physical sexual harassment and felt this was ignored by teachers and administrators (Harris & Kruger, 2020).

  • Girls reported being told to empathize with or tolerate boys’ behaviors.

  • Recommendations:

    • Address stereotypes about Black girls as adultified

    • Take action against harassment and hold those that cause harm accountable

    • Conversations with boys that address toxic masculinity

Supportive Relationships

  • Positive adult relationships provide consistency and stability.

  • Supportive relationships provide encouragement.

  • Adults should model positive relationships.

  • Students need to be provided social opportunities with peers.

Targeting Teacher Behaviors

  • Blake et al., 2011:

    • Teachers need strong classroom management skills to provide structure for students and to reduce overwhelmed teachers relying on discipline referrals to manage student behaviors.

    • Kunjufu (2002) reported that 20% of classroom teachers make 80% of the discipline and special education referrals, so teacher biases needs to be addressed.

    • Teachers need to maintain high academic expectations for students because it shows students that other believe in them and that they have support in schools.

    • Culturally relevant pedagogy can promote engagement.

Culturally Competent Positive Behavior Interventions & Supports (PBIS)

  • Create a positive school climate.

  • Encourage positive behaviors.

  • PBIS has reduced discipline referrals in suburban schools (Netzel & Eber, 2003).

  • Suggested that in combination with culturally competent practices, PBIS could benefit other schools as well, including in under-resourced communities (Blake et al., 2011).

Restorative Justice in Schools

  • Alternative to exclusionary disciplinary practices in schools

  • Significant reductions in suspensions ranging from 40% to 90%

  • Positive gains in important school performance, learning, and climate variables (Song & Swearer, 2016)

  • Examples:

    • Three-tiered approach

    • Conflict resolution center

    • Restorative circles

    • Dialogue circles

Liberatory Spaces of Freedom

  • Schools can be places of freedom for Black girls (Morris, 2016).

  • Need self-reflection and recalibration from teachers (Harris & Kruger, 2020) in order to create these spaces.

  • Writing can be used as a tool for liberation by linking a historical context to current realities (McArthur & Muhammad, 2020).

Police-Free Schools

  • Controversial issue in the public (creating safety versus causing harm?)

  • 6 million students are in schools with police but no school psychologists; 14 million students are in schools with police but no counselor, nurse, psychologist, or social worker (ACLU, 2019).

  • Funding increases are needed to provide mental health support for youth; prioritize over supporting police in schools (ACLU, 2019).

  • Student-led advocacy

    • Urban Youth Collaborative, led by high school students in NYC, advocates for an end to the school-to-prison pipeline through reforms such as ending police in schools.

    • The Philadelphia Student Union has led the movement to have the district end their agreement with law enforcement and no longer employ police in schools. In response, the Board of Education in Philadelphia responded that they would “reimagine” school policing rather than put an end to the practice, but advocates are still pushing for greater and more transformative change.

    • Campaigns in other cities have shown greater success with cancelled contracts between school systems and city police (e.g., Denver, San Francisco, Seattle).

  • Support from teachers and counselors

    • Organizations of teachers (e.g., The American Federation of Teachers, 2020) and mental health professionals (e.g., The National Association of Social Workers - Massachusetts Chapter, 2020) have declared their support for a removal of all police from schools.

    • Calls emphasize that with ending contracts with police, the replacement should be mental health professionals, rather than private security who also lack appropriate mental health training.

  • Counseling Not Criminalization in Schools Act

    • This issue has now made its way to the federal level.

    • Sponsored by Senators Chris Murphy and Elizabeth Warren, the Act aims for police in schools to be replaced by school psychologists, social workers, and other staff who are trained in providing trauma-informed mental health services through a $2.5 billion grant program.


"The program is broken down into three tiers. In the first, entire classrooms come together in community-building circles to talk about problems and voice their concerns, which encourages peer-to-peer respect. For specific conflicts, though, smaller groups are used, which bring together the harmed student, the person causing the harm, and a group of their peers or adults. A third tier is reserved for student reintegration following suspension."



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For more information on this presentation, please contact:

Stephanie Miodus, M.A., M.Ed. at stephanie.miodus@temple.edu

Meredith Weber, Ph.D., NCSP at meredithwe@pcom.edu

Stephanie Joseph, M.A., M.Ed. at stephanie.joseph0001@temple.edu