Across the nation, there is an increase in police presence and the overuse of suspensions and expulsions. In some schools, it only takes a dress code violation to suspend a student. Overly strict school policies have made schools seem more like a prison than a place of learning. Because of this, the phrase “school-to-prison pipeline” came into formation.

To keep kids out of the criminal justice system and in the classroom, there are a number of actions that educators and administrators can take.

Police should be used as a last resort. 

In the instance of an issue, school-based police officers are often called upon. While intervention is sometimes needed, it usually isn’t necessary. In the case of Joshua Kehm, intervention from a school-based officer caused more harm than good. While restraining a 12-year-old middle schooler, Kehm slammed the student to the floor while she was having a confrontation with another student.

The confrontation did not present a risk but it was handled as if the student was acting recklessly. Rather than arresting students as a first response, authority figures need to sit down with their students and have a conversation. Treating students with respect will result in a more proactive result.

Emphasize standard tests less. 

High or low standardized test scores can make or break a school’s funding. However, having a student’s primary focus on standardized tests has been linked to the school-to-prison pipeline. Focusing heavily on standardized test scores can cause students to become disengaged with their education.

Nowadays, teachers receive more pressure to prep their students for exams and less on how they can help their students develop as a student. The real focus of education needs to be on how educators can develop the skills and wellbeing of their students, with high school test scores serving as a positive side effect and not a primary goal.

College and career prep needs to be more prominent in schools. 

Life after high school can be unnerving especially without proper preparation. Unprepared students are often correlated with a higher rate of college drop out rate and job retentions rates.

One study conducted by the Education Trust revealed that only half of high school graduates complete some type of college or career prep course. Students that don’t have good support systems and don’t have prep classes are less likely to pursue higher education or work towards a specific career. Students often have a goal or dream in mind but need guidance on how to achieve it. These classes can help them gain that skill and stay out of the criminal justice system.