The School-to-Prison Pipeline: Early Education Inequality Shapes Incarceration in US and Brazil

By | April 13, 2017

In the United States and Brazil, two countries with deep histories of racial injustice, disparities in educational opportunities between racial minorities and white populations manifest as early as preschool. The chances of incarceration significantly increase in poor black populations, greatly due to the structures and policies that begin at the start of formal schooling. This pattern has been termed the school-to-prison pipeline, and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) defines the pipeline as “the policies and practices that push our nation’s schoolchildren, especially our most at-risk children, out of classrooms and into the juvenile and criminal justice systems.”

For both Brazil and the United States, the pipeline starts with inadequate resources directed to public schools in stressed neighborhoods. Due to a lack of educational opportunities combined with strict and often unfair punishment policies, many black students end up leaving school and ultimately engaging in criminal activity. In the United States, nearly 1 million black people now make up 43% of the country’s 2.3 million incarcerated population. Afro-Brazilians make up 61% of the 622,200 incarcerated in Brazil.

In recent years, jarring statistics reflecting prison rates among black communities have gained increasing attention. But not enough has been done to uproot these patterns that manifest as early as preschool. And while both countries reflect glaring similarities in terms of prison rates and educational disparities, the United States differs from Brazil in terms of structure and relevant public policy. (Rio on Watch)

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