The Psychological Effects of School to Prison Pipeline and No Child Left Behind

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Table of Contents

  • Introduction
  • Criminal Justice Pipeline
  • Psychology
  • Hypermasculinity
  • Monetary Sanctions: How a Judge's Discretion Can Promote Social Control
  • Judicial Decision-Making Process
  • Conclusion


This paper takes an in-depth dive on how the discretion of a judicial official unintentionally maintains a system that was designed in order to keep social control among the lower socioeconomic and various racial/ethnic groups within the United States of America. The discretion of a Judge while sentencing pre-trial can be influenced by many different variables. This paper will show a general overview of the criminal justice pipeline theory. We will discuss the psychology of learned behavior, hyper masculinity, monetary sanction, and finally how a Judge makes their decision on whether to sentence an individual pre-trial. To conclude, I will discuss the implication of these variables and explain why this research is important.

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Criminal Justice Pipeline

When discussing the criminal justice pipeline, it can be broken down into two specific categories, (1) the STPP and (2) the PIC. The school to prison pipeline (STPP) is a metaphor that shows the various disciplinary policies and practices that label students as troublemakers, the exclusion of students from school and the increase of the likelihood of involvement in delinquency, juvenile justice and subsequent incarceration. (Crawley & Hirschfield, 2018) The Prison industrial complex describes the network of economic and political elites who draw power and wealth from the expansion of prisons. This means that the criminal justice pipeline is ultimately a source of income among the economic and political elites, as supported by the critical race theory which is a legal studies theory that seeks to explain why the laws that regulate education can perpetuate racial inequality without explicitly discriminating. (Crawley & Hirschfield, 2018) Additionally, the STTP can be broken down into four main concepts: (1) the pipeline is operated through school exclusions, mostly being suspensions, expulsions and various disciplinary actions through a zero-tolerance policy, (2) this concepts highlights the negativity of the exclusionary discipline, (3) there is a disproportionately levied against minorities and low-income students who are then criminalized and (4) physical similarities between the school and the correctional system, to include metal detectors, security cameras and the presence of law enforcement.


The Safe School Act of 1994 and the No Child Left Behind Act of 2002 caused massive social change by implementing a system that supports Social Control theory. (Bradshaw & Ellison. 2009) First, we must discuss what the Safe School Act of 1994 and the No Child Left Behind Act of 2002 do. The Safe School Act of 1994 encompasses what the school-to-prison pipeline is. With the implementation of the act, it effectively cemented and nationalized a zero-tolerance policy in all schools. This ensure a standardized data collection of the public youth demographics, as well as forced the schools to report crime to law enforcement. This particular Act really means the crime will become more visible. Once the No Child Left Behind Act was introduced in 2002 it created a way for social inequality to form. The No Child Left Behind Act established that educational failure can be directly linked to crime and furthermore it punished educational failure. What these Acts have created is a dynamic that systematically attacks poor students of color. These students are shown to be more likely to attend a school that faces exclusionary pressures. (Crawley & Hirschfield, 2018.) This results in the students being portrayed as disorderly or disruptive. Therefore, the school personal are more likely to project criminal features and harsher disciplinary outcomes for these poor students of color. As an additional result, theses disciplinary alternative schools are subjected to a much higher rate of police scrutiny. (Bradshaw & Ellison. 2009) However, the most important consequence of the enhanced policing and punitive treatment of these students is the development of hypermasculinity.

Some of the more common punishment used on these poor students of color is withholding high school graduation. Students are then at a much higher risk of dropping out, this gives schools the power to push out ‘unwanted’ students. Studies then show that dropping out of school immediately increase your likelihood of crime and arrest. Additionally, studies show that these punishments can inflict severe and lasting damages on the students physical and mental health. In conclusion, due to these Acts, when a poor student of color is denied their high school diploma, they will then have a significantly much harder time finding any potential career. This leads to unemployment rates raising and can be seen as a way of creating and maintain social control among the lower socioeconomic portion of the population. The psychology aspect of these Acts is shown with the Social Learning theory and therefore supports the Learned Behavior theory, which will be covered later.


As a member of our society there are many different factors that may result in a negative interaction within the criminal justice system, one of the most prominent ways is being young, black and male. “Black and Latino males are hyper criminalized even in non-criminal justice spaces (including schools) in such a way that the control and punishment of black and brown youth has taken precedence over their growth and development.” (Crawley & Hitchford, 2018) Additionally there is the perception of dangerousness which suggests that an unemployed Black male will be more dangerous: this is a result of a lack of remorse, being committed to the ‘street life’ and the resistance to adjusting to prison life. (Rios. 2009) A Judge may perceive hypermasculinity as disrespect and feel that the defendant needs constant supervision, this can cause the Judge to deny bail to on the basis that the defendant may be poising a risk to society. This also promotes the ‘angry black man’ stereotype which has the potential to affect a Judge subconscious and what their learned behavior is. (Rios. 2009)

All of this continues to promote the STPP and shows that the fusion of law enforcement into the school systems has resulted in student misconduct as being redefined into criminal behavior. These misconducts can range from running in a hallway to fighting and even not shaving to insubordination. The important thing to remember when considering hypermasculinity is that when getting in trouble at a young age, the most common punishment (when it’s a serious offense) that a school will impose is to take away their chance of graduating high school. Because the juveniles now cannot pursue higher education the judge will subconsciously assume that the youth is of lower SES which in turn may help determine what the sentencing of that juvenile will be. We will be getting into what a Judge recites when discussing the decision-making process later on in the paper. For now, the important thing to know is that a Judge will most likely, ultimately base their decision to release a defendant pretrial (e.g., bail), sentence to jail/prison, or even the death penalty on what their gut feeling is. However, what each individual judge has learned, as they have aged, has a potential for influencing their decision, this can be subconsciously biased. Which unintentional can keeps certain racial/ ethnic groups in a state of inequality and maintains social control. Therefore, “Pretrial release decisions are determined in large part by offense seriousness and prior record of the defendant, and the same considerations are key factors in sentencing decisions, this is simple a proxy for offense seriousness and prior records. (Williams, 2003. Pp 303)

Monetary Sanctions: How a Judge’s Discretion Can Promote Social Control

What is a monetary sanction? In short, monetary sanction are the fines/ restitution that convicted offenders are required to pay in accordance without our criminal justice system. These debts can never be removed unless they are paid off. The importance that this play, is that it shows the inequality that plagues the lower portion of the SES population, when this sample of the population encounters monetary sanctions, it can be devastating and they may be unable to pay off the debt. This effects how long the person is subjected to the criminal justice system. (Harris, 2014) In fact studies show that when bail is set at $50,000 (12%) or more, only one of eight are able to pay it, when bail is set at $5,000 or lower about 60% of the population can pay it. (Williams, 2003)

As previously mentioned, the writing of misdemeanors citation in school and labeling it as criminal behavior is problematic. This is because, even though the school citation has no monetary value, it may lead the student to believe that they are a ‘criminal.’ This determines that both a Judge and the school system is applying a predetermined punishment for a specific behavioral response. The difference between these two is that the Judge is using their ability to impose a monetary sanction on the person in question, while the Principal cannot impose a monetary sanction. The discretion that the judge uses is therefore problematic due to learned behavior. When looking from this lens it is apparent that the criminal justice system is being used as a way to keep social control. Certain demographics determine what kind of experience you will receive from this system.

Judicial Decision-Making Process

What influences a judge? In the 1940’s a political scientist named C. Herman Pritchett unbeknownst created a massive field of study that has been dubbed ‘Judicial Behavior’. (Epstein. 2016) As suspected this answer is not simple nor is it fully understood. In fact, one of the biggest problems that a Judge faces today, is the societal pressure to be perfect. We often forget that a Judge is still a human and a mistake can and will happen. (Rachlinski, 2017) When I first started this paper, I wanted to understand the question of, how does a Judge determine whether or not to release a defendant pre-trial. The answer can vary between each individual person but in general a lack of education, employment, extralegal factors, a prior record and the seriousness of the crime in question is the best identifier to whether or not a person will be jailed pretrial. (Williams, 2003)

Extralegal factors can be defined as the race, socioeconomic status, gender, and age of the individual in question. Another big risk indicator is the family life of the accused offender. Meaning if the defendant has a stake in the community or has a visible family the judge may be less likely to impose pretrial detention. This is because families suggest stability and conventionality. Additionally, it is important to note that a Judge does have the power to use their discretion when observing a case. However, studies show that when a Judge uses their discretion they will typically ‘over-predict ‘and therefore are more likely to jail a defendant who may not pose a risk to society. (Williams, 2003)


In conclusion during the course of this paper we took an in-depth view of the immense scale of the criminal justice pipeline, we talked about what the psychological effect that the Safe School and No-Child Left Behind Acts may cause and what hypermasculinity is and how it also has the potential of influencing a Judge subconscious. Additionally, we talked about monetary sanctions and some of the most prominent risk facts a Judge may consider when passing judgment on a person. The key takeaway is that this all ties into support for the learned behavior theory; this proposes that behavior is learned by observing and imitating other. As a child is navigating the school system they are systematically begin taught that they themselves are a criminal. Furthermore, when the child then returns home, they are then being taught to have hypermasculinity. This causes severe and lasting damages on the person perspective. Additionally, if the person belongs to a racial or ethnic group the Judge will then see this masculinity as disrespect and will severely affect the Judge’s decision on whether or not to imprison the accused pretrial. We also discussed what monetary sanctions are and how it effects the lower SES population. This all effects the Judicial decision-making process and can unintentionally maintains a correctional system that maintains social control over the racial/ethnic groups of the lower socioeconomic status.  

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