Prelude to prison: Student perspectives on school suspension

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Social Sciences


Robert A. Rubenstein


Suspension, School-to-prison pipeline, Discipline, Mass incarceration, Zero tolerance

Subject Categories

Social and Behavioral Sciences


By the close of the twentieth century, the United States became known for its reliance on incarceration, with exceedingly high incarceration rates for men of color. Policing and law enforcement control were ubiquitous in poor communities of color, and eventually extended into the public school system in these communities. The meshing of the school and the carceral has become known as the "school-to-prison pipeline." This dissertation describes the perceptions of young people traveling through this pipeline. Through qualitative interviews with students who have been suspended from mainstream school and placed in an alternative school, I examine zero tolerance disciplinary approaches and the transformation of schools into penal-like institutions. The interviews offered me insight into what the youth who are subjected to carceral policies, practices and environments make of their experience. The research findings suggest that zero tolerance and other harsh school disciplinary policies help to prepare certain young people for a life in the criminal justice system and environments of penalizing social control. The implementation of school discipline has come to resemble criminal justice strategies of arrest, trial, sentence and exclusion to stigmatizing institutions. Harsh school discipline is imposed on young people without regard to the circumstances that influence their behaviors or how punishment erodes their belief in fairness and further alienates them from school. The findings from the interviews with youth suggest that the theoretical frameworks of structural violence and social reproduction literature are useful to understanding how the process of suspension quietly prepares marginalized kids for their place in the carceral state.


Surface provides description only. Full text is available to ProQuest subscribers. Ask your Librarian for assistance.