To Report or Not To Report: Data on School Law Enforcement, Student Discipline, Race, and the "School-to-Prison Pipeline"
55 Pages Posted: 2 Oct 2020 Last revised: 25 Jan 2021
Date Written: January 23, 2021
A growing “school-to-prison pipeline” literature focuses on one critical consequence flowing from public schools’ increasingly “legalized” approach towards student discipline: School reports of student disciplinary incidents to law enforcement agencies. Moreover, this literature’s recent empirical turn consistently demonstrates how increases in school resource (and/or police) officers at a school correspond with the school’s increased likelihood of reporting student disciplinary incidents to law enforcement agencies. While a second core claim—that these adverse consequences do not randomly distribute across student sub-groups and disproportionately burden especially vulnerable student groups, including racial minorities—is especially prominent in the normative literature, empirical support for it remains inconclusive, at best. The school-to-prison pipeline research literature’s understandable focus on school reporting behaviors, however, entirely ignores school decisions to not report student incidents to law enforcement agencies. This Article addresses this gap in the scholarly literature by comparing determinants of schools’ decisions to report and to not report student disciplinary matters to law enforcement agencies. In so doing this Article provides insights into and greater clarity on how schools exercise their institutional discretion in the student disciplinary context and how it distributes. It also provides greater insight and clarity into when racial disparities in the disciplinary context tend to emerge. What we find, on balance, is that the salience of a school’s SRO/police presence is comparatively far greater in the school reporting than non-reporting context. As well, traditional distributional worries do not find strong empirical support either in terms of when schools report or when schools decide to exercise institutional discretion and not report.
Keywords: Empirical, Education, criminal, civil rights, students
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation