From Education to Incarceration: Dismantling the School-to-Prison Pipeline
reviewed by Alford A. Young, Jr. - September 14, 2015
Title: From Education to Incarceration: Dismantling the School-to-Prison Pipeline
Author(s): Anthony J. Nocella II, Priya Parmar, & David Stovall (Eds)
Publisher: Peter Lang Publishing, New York
ISBN: 1433123231, Pages: 305, Year: 2014
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From Education to Incarceration: Dismantling the School-to-Prison Pipeline consists of seventeen chapters that explore one of the most vexing social problems concerning disadvantaged youth. The volume conveys the severity of the problem with transferring many African American and Latino youth from schooling systems that cannot effectively serve them to the prison industrial complex. This too often marginalizes them from employment and renders them seemingly unworthy of civic intervention. In addressing various dimensions of the pipeline, From Education to Incarceration aspires to be comprehensive. The authors of the chapters include: (a) scholars who study educational systems, (b) activists involved in community organizing for social justice, and (c) incarcerated individuals (previously, as well as currently) who seek redress of the penal system based upon their personal experiences.
Two early chapters by Nancy A. Heitzeg and Annette Fuentes address the increase in punitive efforts in schools and the heightened presence of police and surveillance personnel in school buildings. The somberness of the issue at hand is delivered immediately in these essays. Later chapters address issues concerning high rates of youth incarceration. Others address the effects on educational outcomes and access to various forms of educational experiences encountered by incarcerated youth as well as those classified as ex-offenders. Other chapters focus on reentry initiatives and their relationship to educational access. These and other chapters that address social policy more directly focus on exploring the mobilization efforts by citizens to have laws or institutional processes changed in order to curb the transfer of youth into penal institutions.
Virtually every imaginable angle of the school-to-prison pipeline is brought into consideration in From Education to Incarceration. For example, Damien M. Sojoyner focuses on the history of racialized youth in Los Angeles that connects the proliferation of gangs with the discussion of incarcerated youth. In a very different vein, Henry Giroux explores what he defines as the youth crime control complex and how this is linked to American educational systems. Another turn is made by Jesselyn McCrudy, who offers examples of youth who were incarcerated for activities that do not seem to merit such harsh sanctions. Another perspective is offered by Anthony J. Nocella II and Kim Socha, who question the legitimacy of formal educational institutions providing culturally relevant education, especially to youth of color. Finally, Deborah Appleman, Zeke Caligiuri, and Jon Vang explore whether the premises of a liberal arts education can be used to transform educational programs housed in penal institutions.
These pieces reflect only a few of the directions taken across the seventeen chapters. The final section of the book includes four chapters that examine how the formerly incarcerated attempt to engage schooling once released from prison, and how efforts at social mobilization disrupting the school-to-prison pipeline have transpired. A chapter on transformative justice, written by Emilio Lacques-Zapien and Leslie Mendoza (both of whom serve as Youth Organizers for the Youth Justice Coalition), brings together many of the arguments made salient in the other chapters. It describes the extent to which community organizing and the reimagining of adolescents as rightful participants in civic affairs can curb the transition of youths of color into incarcerated young adults via school systems.
The chapters written by incarcerated individuals (exploring the experience of incarceration) stand apart from those dedicated to documenting how and why the pipeline came into being. Chapters written by Mumia Abu Jamal, Deborah Appleman, Zeke Caligiuri, Jon Vang, and Anthony Nocella II effectively explore the extent to which the incarcerated are marginalized from the kinds of formal educational opportunities that may prevent them from ever returning to prison. Each makes a less than lucid connection between the experiences of those serving time and the phenomenon of the school-to-prison pipeline.
The wide and vast selection of issues results in a work that struggles to deliver an extensive exploration of any particular issue. Very few of the chapters are longer than fifteen pages. As such, almost every chapter is too brief to deliver the type of analytical gravitas that would best serve the agenda of the volume. Consequently, depth is sacrificed to capture a breadth of different issues.
The effort to cast such a wide net on various school-to-prison pipeline issues as well as focus on circumstances in particular cities means that critical questions remain unanswered. For instance, would efforts to curb the transition in Los Angeles work in New York City given the different ethnic make-ups of each city? Also, are the factors leading to the incarceration of youth in the immediate post-civil rights era similar to those leading to comparable outcomes in the 1990s and later? The volume supports the claim that racism matters in both periods. However, the evidence in these chapters clearly indicates that extreme differences exist across periods of time. The policy-relevant actions necessary for addressing contemporary circumstances are not always very well-informed by including such historical material.
The strength of From Education to Incarceration is that it provides a wealth of data concerning the school-to-prison pipeline as well as other sources to find more data. It also documents the various institutional policies and practices that exist in many states and municipalities. What is less successful is that the chapters addressing community mobilization remain largely focused on what kinds of outcomes are desired rather than how they can be achieved. In trying to do so much, some issues are left underexplored. Scholars who aspire to have evidence of the state of the problem concerning the school-to-prison pipeline will find it here, as will graduate students who desire to accumulate basic knowledge prior to entering into this field of inquiry. Scholars in educational policy will find a few examples of successful efforts in various cities and communities. Ultimately, there is just too much ground included here for the kind of deep and critical analysis that would be provided in a standard edited volume.
Consequently, the volume appears more like an encyclopedia on the school-to-prison relationship than a finely interwoven set of essays. The volume is not structured in a way that will make it highly useful for educational purposes unless used as a supplementary text for courses on social inequality and education. That being said, I suspect that readers will pick and choose what most interests them in this volume rather than read it from cover to cover. Hopefully, even that kind of effort will inform and inspire positive action for a critical problem in American society.