4 things you need to know about The Cradle-to-Prison Pipeline

Juvenile Detention is in important social justice issue and it involves so many of the families we work with here at CFRI. Sam LaPres, CFRI Graduate Research Assistant/MSSW Student  will be highlighting the Cradle-to Prison pipeline on our blog this summer. This is the first post in a three part series where will be exploring in depth this phenomena and what we can do about it. Stay tuned for part 2 &3!

Cradle-to-Prison Pipeline? Isn’t it called the School-to-Prison Pipeline?

Many of us have heard of the School-to-Prison Pipeline and some of us know that it describes the trend where children are pushed out of schools and into the juvenile or criminal justice system. We also know that Zero-Tolerance school policies implemented in the 1990s were the catalyst for this pipeline because they criminalized childhood behavior.  With that, we know that this is not the fault of the individual child. Systematic racism and classism lies at the heart of this trend that disproportionately affects Black and Latino boys.  But what’s the Cradle-to-Prison Pipeline? Why is it important?

In recent years, it has been found that the School-to-Prison Pipeline does not start in Kindergarten. In fact, it doesn’t even start in preschool. It starts as soon as a baby is born, before saying a single word or taking a single step and it is based primarily off of the color of the baby’s skin and socio-economic status of that baby’s parents. As the Children’s Defense Fund has pointed out, “The most dangerous place for a child to try to grow up in America is at the intersection of race and poverty.” We can then define the Cradle-to-Prison Pipeline  as the life trajectory that makes it more likely for a poor child of color to end up in prison than his white peers not because of his lack of potential but simply because of the access he has to opportunity due to their race and family’s income.

What do I need to know about the Cradle-to-Prison Pipeline?

1.Children of color are more likely to live in poverty than their White peers.

In Texas, 10% of White children grow up in poverty, compared to 33% of Black children and 35% of Hispanic children.

Each year the federal poverty level is set by the Department of Health and Human Services. A family of four is considered to be living in poverty if they earn less than $24,300 per year. In Texas, Black and Latino children make up a disproportionate percentage of children living in poverty.

2. Children of color and those growing up in poverty are less likely to receive quality education.

Children from low-income families and Black and Latino children score lower on standardized test scores.

Children from low-income families and Black and Latino children score lower on standardized test scores.

This data is taken from the Texas STAAR exam. These graphs demonstrate that children growing up at risk, in poverty, and/or are Latino or Black receive lower scores on their standardized exams. This is not a reflection of the children themselves; instead it is a reflection of systemic inequity that plagues families and children from low-income communities. The discrepancy in test scores between white, higher SES children and low-income, children of color is commonly termed the achievement gap. The achievement gap is a direct result of the opportunity gap. Children of color from low-income communities can and do achieve at high levels when provided with equal opportunities to their peers. Unfortunately, schools in low-income communities are often underfunded, have less qualified teachers, and less access to extracurricular activities.

3. Children of color face stricter discipline in schools.

This infographic highlights how students of color, particularly Black students, are treated with harsher discipline in schools, and thus are less likely to graduate high school. This puts our children on a trajectory making it are less likely for them to graduate, but more likely to go to prison.

Black and Latino children are more likely to be suspended, expelled, and arrested at school contributing to lower rates of graduation and higher rates of incarceration.

4.Children of color are more likely to end up in prison.

Black and Latino boys are much more likely to go to prison than White boys according to research from the Children’s Defense Fund.
Minority youth represent a greater percentage of youth in residential placement or what we know as juvenile justice facilities.

This is what it boils down to: Black and Latino children are more likely to go to jail in their lifetime than their white peers not because of potential, but because of systemic inequity as a result of race and poverty.

So what are we supposed to do about this injustice?

A country that prides itself on the “American-Dream” should be very alarmed by the idea that the greatest predictor that a baby will succeed in life is the color of his skin and his family’s income level. The first step is acknowledging and understanding how the intersection of poverty and race collide to negatively impact a child’s likelihood to reach their full academic and personal potential. The next step is taking action. Look for the next blog in this series which will focus on solutions to the problem and how you can get involved.