New Report Focuses on Another Side of the School-to-Prison Pipeline

Last Updated: May 30, 2012

This article appeared in the May 2012 Rural Policy Matters.

Editor's note: Links are free and current at time of posting, but may require registration or expire over time.

A study released last month describes in detail what its authors call student “keep out,” a dynamic in which youth returning to their home schools following juvenile commitment or criminal incarceration are denied reentry into school.

Related Articles

“Kept Out: Barriers to Meaningful Education in the School to Prison Pipeline” was written by Georgetown University Law Center students and staff and is the result of interviews with students, teachers, administrators, probation officers, education advocates, and others who share the experiences of students who were unable to access education after being removed from school, often for disciplinary reasons.

The perspective of this report differs significantly from other schoolhouse-to-jailhouse research which has focused on “push out,” a common term for policies and practices which effectively force students out of school.

Study authors found three distinct categories of “keep out” faced by students attempting to make the transition back to school after being released: direct keep out, indirect keep out, and constructive keep out.

Direct keep out occurs when schools openly deny students’ readmission, citing various reasons including safety concerns, whether justified or not, the advanced age of the student, or an inability to make up credits. Direct keep out also occurs when students are sent directly to alternative schools, which don’t always offer the same quality of education.

Indirect keep out is the effect of administrative and logistical barriers that can exist for these students — and occurs when students are told they cannot enroll in school without specific paperwork or records. Juvenile justice educational settings may not be fully connected to other public schools, so their records and courses may not be part of a uniform system, making transferring files and credits difficult. Many times, families do not understand their rights to request immediate enrollment, exacerbating the problem.

Finally, constructive keep out is the situation occurring for students when inadequate services and supports are offered to meet their unique needs, and students leave school again as they become discouraged about their prospects there. Many schools are not equipped to address the trauma and violence that are part of some student’s lives, and are not prepared to address some of these social-emotional needs upon a student’s return through the school.

Currently, there are no guidelines or standardized best practices to address these barriers, which typically occur for especially vulnerable students who are low income and at risk. According to research by Education Week, Virginia has the most specific regulations about the reentry process for students which include timelines and shared responsibility. And, New York State has passed a “home school re-entry” bill that gives students who have been incarcerated less than a year the explicit right to return to their home school.

Georgetown Law Human Rights Institute, the report’s publisher, makes several recommendations for policy change including developing federal policies to incentivize rather than deincentivize enrolling at-risk populations in schools, mandating ongoing education and training for all school employees about formal enrollment policies, and developing information-sharing practices that ensure that transcripts and other records are shared between institutions and are readily available for students’ use.

Read more:

Press release detailing report process:

Read the full report here:

Read more from the May 2012 Rural Policy Matters.