Beyond the School-to-Prison Pipeline: Social Death and the Relationship Between School and Incarceration
The school-to-prison pipeline is perhaps the most well-known current framework for understanding the relationships between school and incarceration, but the prolific use of this pipeline metaphor is problematic. It tends to omit or obfuscate more complex understandings of the hows and whys adolescents end up incarcerated. Challenging the school-to-prison pipeline narrative is an important precursor to examining the complex factors that lead to and perpetuate youth incarceration, as well as developing solutions for addressing it. This paper first critiques the school-to-prison pipeline narrative. It then offers a way to reimagine how we can think of adolescent criminalization in terms of another metaphor, that of social death, which refers to the systematic criminalization and dehumanization of entire groups of people. Based on an interview study with twenty-nine adults who were first incarcerated as adolescents, this paper uses case studies of three Black and three Latino male participants to demonstrate how social death manifested in zero tolerance, wrongful accusations, and proactive surveillance in and out of the classroom.