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For Immediate Release

Press Release

As Schools Reopen, Report Highlights Opportunities to Re-engage Students and Close the School-to-Prison Pipeline


A new publication from the The Sentencing Project documents immense opportunities and perilous pitfalls facing the U.S. education system as schools reopen after an unprecedented nationwide disruption to children’s education and social and emotional health.  

The report, Back to School Action Guide: Re-Engaging Students and Closing the School-to-Prison Pipeline, highlights the $122 billion infusion of federal pandemic relief that provides educators, advocates, and community leaders with a rare opportunity to close the school-to-prison pipeline and to invest in effective new strategies to keep children in school and on track for success. 

“The research leaves no doubt that more effective approaches are available to address student misbehavior and to engage and support those at risk of failure,” said Richard Mendel, the report’s author and Senior Research Fellow at The Sentencing Project. “If schools take this opportunity to reduce suspensions, replace school-based police officers with counselors, and promote student success through proven strategies such as intensive tutoring and attendance promotion, they can achieve historic progress.”

However, given the widespread disconnection, learning loss, and trauma that American children have suffered during the pandemic – coupled with punitive practices that have long hindered the education system – 2021-22 could also be a year of educational tragedy for countless students nationwide. 

The report points the way to a far more hopeful future for millions of vulnerable school children. Schools have been criminalizing students – especially black and brown students – or suspending them from school for age-typical adolescent behavior, the report finds, despite overwhelming evidence that these harsh responses harm children’s futures and do nothing to ensure safety. 

“During these difficult times and at all times, it is so important that we listen to children and their needs so we may provide the necessary resources to support their education and well-being,” said Joey Orduna Hastings, Chief Executive Officer of the National Council for Juvenile and Criminal Court Judges. 

Specifically, the report urges school systems and their community partners to embrace a two-part reform strategy:

  • An all-out effort in 2021-22 to re-engage students who have fallen behind or become disengaged from school during the pandemic.
  • A permanent shift to reduce long standing racial and ethnic disparities and support vulnerable student populations, including youth with disabilities, by prioritizing opportunity, not punishment. 

By investing in proven solutions, educators and their community partners can limit contacts with the youth justice system and establish a new normal in our education system that fosters success, promotes equity, and recognizes the realities of adolescent behavior and brain development.

Back-to-School Action Guide: Re-Engaging Students and Closing the School-to-Prison Pipeline is available here and an executive summary here.


The Sentencing Project is a leader in changing the way Americans think about crime and punishment. The Sentencing Project promotes effective and humane responses to crime that minimize imprisonment and criminalization of youth and adults by promoting racial, ethnic, economic, and gender justice.

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