School-to-Prison Pipeline Workshop

What follows is the outline of a workshop WISH members developed  in 2013 to examine the School-to-Prison Pipeline (or S2PP). As defined by the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU), the S2PP is “a nationwide system of local, state and federal education and public safety policies that pushes students out of school and into the criminal justice system. This system disproportionately targets youth of color and youth with disabilities. Inequities in areas such as school discipline, policing practices, high-stakes testing and the prison industry contribute to the pipeline.” As suggested by that definition, the S2PP is a complicated and sprawling system, and this workshop only begins to interrogate how it works, what it does, and who it affects.

We’ve posted this workshop online in the hope that other organizations will find it useful, informative, or worth critiquing. This workshop is designed to work against incarceration and toward alternative forms of justice and community. Please use it, in whole or in part, and contact us if you have any questions, concerns, or would like to coordinate with us! Our email is nonewyouthjail (at) riseup (dot) net, and our facebook page is here.

S2PP Workshop Outline(total time: approx 1.5 hours; works for groups of 5 – 35+)

Check-In: Name, Preferred Gender Pronouns, Access Needs*, icebreaker question (5-10 minutes, depending upon size of group)
* these include anything that workshop participants and facilitators need or desire to foster their full participation in the workshop. For example, someone who is hearing impaired might request that everyone speak loudly and clearly and not cover their mouths, or someone might note that they have to leave early to pick up a child. Ideally, workshop facilitators should think about accessibility prior to the workshop (does the space need to be fragrance-free? what sort of bathrooms will be available? for more on this, this blog is a good resource)

Introduce facilitators and WISH (or your group) – 5 minutes

Show Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TahlVU8WPds – 15 minutes

  • Introduce the video as a way to hear from youth themselves about what the S2PP is and how it affects them; give context for the video (“In the summer of 2007, the New York Civil Liberties Union partnered with youth from three community organizations…to produce three short documentaries on student experience with the over-policing of New York City schools and the School to Prison Pipeline. The NYCLU supported the youth in creating their own videos using their own words and footage…This film was produced by youth from Make the Road New York.”)

  • After video, turn and talk with the person beside you. What was surprising about the video? What wasn’t? What stood out to you? Was/Is your school like the ones described?

  • Share reactions as a big group.

S2PP Mapping Activity – 30 minutes

Here’s a visual conception of the layout of the game:
s2pp_game

How it works:

  • Facilitators tape cards around the room. The cards are here (it’s a downloadable Word .doc): S2PP Mapping Activity Cards. Each card represents either a school grade (6th through 12th) or a non-school space where students can get sent (i.e. Foster Care, Suspension, Juvie, an ICE Group Home, or to be Homeless/Part of a Criminalized Economy)
  • Workshop participants are divided into teams of 3ish people (depending on the size of the group). All teams start in the 6th grade with the goal of graduating high school.

  • At each station, there are cards describe one or two “situations” that a youth might experience. The team chooses one, rolls the dice, and follows the directions on the card to determine their next move.

  • After each move, each team should spend a minute discussing what factors determine how students might end up in different situations in real life. For example, students of color are more likely to be suspended than given a warning, queer students are more likely to be homeless, etc. Are there factors specific to your city/location that deserve mention?

  • Example cards:
    7th grade: Your teacher says you are being disruptive in class and you are sent to the principal’s office. Roll 1 through 3: You are given a warning and sent back to class (proceed to the next grade). Roll 4 through 6: You are suspended (proceed to suspension).
    Suspension: You are given a two week suspension from school. Roll 1 or 2: You keep up with your work and are able to catch up when you return to school  (proceed to the next grade). Roll 3 or 4: You fall seriously behind and are forced to repeat the grade (lose a turn, them proceed to the next grade). Roll 5 or 6: You begin hanging out with some old friends who have already dropped out of school and are now selling marijuana to get by. (proceed to Homeless/Criminalized Economy)

Share out – 15 minutes:

  • What happened to your student? How did you feel moving through the mapping activity?

  • What did you learn about the S2PP?

  • What’s on your mind now?

  • You can also use this discussion for any targeted questions. For example, how does the immigration system interrelate with youth detention? What happen to youth whose family members have been felonized? How about disabled youth?

Brainstorming alternatives – 20 minutes:

The first step, then, would be to let go of the desire to discover one single alternative system of punishment that would occupy the same footprint as the prison system…Rather, positing decarceration as our overarching strategy, we would try to envision a continuum of alternatives to imprisonment–demilitarization of schools, revitalization of education at all levels, a health system that provides free physical and mental health care to all, and a justice system based on reparation and reconciliation rather than retribution and vengeance.

– Angela Davis, from Are Prisons Obsolete? p 106-7

Alphabet Activity. This activity is designed to get groups thinking about the huge diversity of programs that could contribute to abolishing prisons and the S2PP.
The activity works like this: Divide workshop participants into large groups (5-8 people). For each group, write out the entire alphabet, with space beside each letter, on a whiteboard, chalkboard, or large piece of paper. The groups race to think of one solution/alternative to the S2PP for each letter (i.e. A = Arts in school, B = basketball camp, C = Counseling, D = Decarcerate PA‘s ‘People’s Budget’, etc). They’re gonna have to be creative! Afterwards, look at each list, and hold a short discussion.

  • What would have helped your student navigate the S2PP? What could have helped them stay out of Juvie? Find housing after being homeless? Get through 7th grade math?

  • What solutions do you see in your group alphabet?

WISH work you can discuss if you want:

Check Out:  What are you taking away from this workshop? What organizations exist in your area that are working against the S2PP? How can you join/support their work? What are you asking for? What could this workshop do better?

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