School to Prison Pipeline: The Intersectionality of Race and Poverty


The vast majority of students in elementary and high schools in the U.S. are impacted by the incarceration of education personnel, teachers, and staff, surveillance cameras, tight disciplinary regulations, and consequent school punitive restrictions. Most children are subjected to these control and restraint tactics as a matter of course during the school days. Even though this penalizing environmental standard is detrimental to many children’s learning, educational setting, and socio-emotional growth, there is a lack of measures established to control the vice. These schools’ disciplinary policies and prison-like classroom atmosphere are likely to do more damage than good. The pipeline unduly impacts and engages the specific child and adolescent populations, including those who are poor and are from racial minorities. According to Pentek and Eisenberg (2018), discipline and student engagement are not distributed equitably. In this case, the student form ethnic minority are more susceptible to facing suspensions, dismissals, and school-based prosecutions, increasing the likelihood of academic failure and dropout. As a result, it is critical to explain that poverty and racism sustain the STPP, which, if adequately resolved, can enable alternate routes to success.

Overview of the Problem and Purpose

Punitive exclusionary practices and strategies for school discipline in public schools do not pipeline. STPP is an interconnection of cruel, retaliatory, and often restrictive disciplinary policies implemented by school officials and in-school authorities that contribute to enhanced rates of perpetual dropout for students. In reality, these regulations aid the STPP. Furthermore, these interactions amount to a loop of unpleasant experiences that can escalate or aggravate a student’s cognitive and behavioral issues and subsequently result in criminality and imprisonment (Mallett, 2017). According to Mallett (2017), the STPP is influenced by a variety of conditions. External variables include bad childhood memories, poverty, racial prejudice, parent-child conflicts, and limited access to basic health care. Schools, on the other hand, play a critical role in expediting or intervening in the STPP. Despite this unfavorable result of STPP, there is a lack of study on the problem, which impacts a significant number of students of color.

By targeting students’ social, psychological, and intellectual needs, schools can amplify the situations proven to boost growth and education, reducing the weight of adversity and advancing opportunity. The ability of schools and the capabilities of their workers to create learning environments is critical to achieving this aim. Sadly, several schools lack this capability, causing the STPP to escalate. The current study looks at two aspects that contribute to the STPP and, if handled correctly, can lead to alternate paths to success. These two factors are racial inequality and impoverishment among African American minorities.

Overview of the Theoretical Framework

Kimberlé Crenshaw proposed, in the late 1980s, that desegregation is ill-equipped to handle the forms of disparity and injustices suffered by people who face several or overlapping axes of oppression. Intersectionality theory investigates the specific deficits that arise as a result of possessing various unfavorable demographic profiles (as cited in Ratti, 2019). To comprehend the notion of STPP, it is necessary to understand the concept of intersectionality theory. According to the notion, an individual may possess a variety of qualities or attributes such as age, class, and ethnicity, among others, which may impact their behavior in day-to-day tasks.

For example, in nations where there is widespread class inequality or racial imbalance, the influence of ethnic privileges or encounters may be disproportionate, which may be exacerbated by sociocultural standards. As a result, students of color who have been reprimanded, ejected, and convicted in the criminal system generally live in low-income communities with poorly resourced institutions. As a result, there is a high possibility that minority children will be funneled into the STPP and become increasingly marginalized in contemporary capitalistic society.

Visuals from the Theory

Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, a legal scholar, coined the term “intersectionality” to extend legal and philosophical contexts for people who face numerous forms of oppression, such as racism and misogyny. By using the theory in this context, researchers can visualize how learners from ethnic minority schools have faced STPP in comparison to their colleagues from higher socioeconomic levels due to the intersecting issues of race and poverty. As cited in Ratti (2019), Crenshaw questioned the use of a single-axis paradigm as a tool for formulating judicial judgments in matters concerning social amenity discrimination affecting persons of color. Moreover, the model at the time did not accommodate for the various ways in which people perceived prejudice. Crenshaw further suggested that people, particularly those with several conflicting identities, should be evaluated through a framework that considers how their allegiances overlap to impact their experience of life, especially in situations that contribute to prejudice (Ratti, 2019). Thus, intersectionality refers to the concomitant context of such social characteristics as race, gender, and economic standing, as well as how these factors interact to form oppressive discriminatory institutions.

Components using Points from Theory


Lower-income and impoverished learners are also predominantly children of color, with many growing up in U.S.-based cities. Middle or upper-class children are less likely to be penalized at school and subjected to tougher punishment than lower-income students (Font & Gershoff, 2017). More precisely, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, about 16.1 percent of learners under the age of 18 lived in extreme poverty in 2020, a14.4 percent in 2019 (Shrider et al., 2021). Over one in every three African American students is poor, compared to one in every eight Caucasian learners, with an even larger difference for those poorest and most vulnerable (Shrider et al., 2021). While learners from low-income families are disproportionately represented in communities with higher levels of school discipline, poverty is neither an explanation nor a predictive factor in these effects. In other words, even after adjusting for income, significant racial differences in school suspensions and dismissals have been repeatedly detected.

Racial Disparities

Academic performance gaps between ethnic minorities and their Caucasian counterparts are evidence of ongoing injustices in learners’ chances to study in America’s schools. Over the past couple of years, the rate of African American children’s suspensions increased by 24.3% from 2013 to 2015 (Loveless, 2017). At the same time, however, the overall student expulsion rate for African American students was much higher than for other ethnic groups. The disparity in suspension rates between African American and Caucasian children has expanded from 2013 to 2015. Notably, low-income males of color are disproportionately harmed by these retaliatory sanctions, both in schools and in the court system. These findings are consistent with the intersectionality hypothesis, which holds that inequality in schools is caused by a confluence of variables such as race and socioeconomic class, rather than a single factor such as poverty.

Limitation of the Theory

It has been challenging to explore intersectionality theory using quantitative methodologies. Reservations have been expressed concerning the sampling required dimensions to appropriately extract out evidence supporting intersectionality theorists’ assertions. Furthermore, theorists have raised doubts about the ability to generate innovative intersectional theories consistently. For example, by allocating certain experiences to specific parties, intersectionality proponents frequently claim a patent on those collectives’ experiences. However, intersectional feminists, for example, do not represent all women, and critical race theorists do not represent all racial minorities. As a result, genuine empowerment does not include being enslaved to theoretical abstractions, which eventually end in cruel and parochial politics in their right.


Massive reforms are required in this faulty system. The STPP has a profound effect on African American children. These are the learners that have suffered as a result of a system that has consistently fought against the advancement of underrepresented and underprivileged students. As a result, the intersectionality approach is important since it indicates that inequality is multifaceted and that societal problems, laws, and policies are the result of intersecting race, culture, socioeconomic status, and/or gender classifications. Intersectionality as a professional paradigm can help school stakeholders understand how students’ intersecting identities influence a higher likelihood of violence and discrimination, which can lead to alienated educational experiences. The pursuit of knowledge is an important stage in using an intersectional practice lens. This necessitates school stakeholders learning about the varied communities they serve, with a focus on how different students’ intersecting identities might put them at higher risk of prejudice and marginalization.


Font, S. A., & Gershoff, E. T. (2017). Contextual factors associated with the use of corporal punishment in US public schools. Children and Youth Services Review, 79(1), 408-417.

Loveless, T. (2017). 2017 Brown center report on American education: Race and school suspensions.

Mallett, C. A. (2017). The school-to-prison pipeline: Disproportionate impact on vulnerable children and adolescents. Education and Urban Society, 49(6), 563-592.

Pentek, C., & Eisenberg, M. E. (2018). School resource officers, safety, and discipline: Perceptions and experiences across racial/ethnic groups in Minnesota secondary schools. Children and Youth Services Review, 88(1), 141-148.

Ratti, M. (2019). Intersectionality, Sikhism, and Black feminist legal theory: Reconceptualizing Sikh precarity and minoritization in the US and India. Sikh Formations, 15(3-4), 411-440.

Shrider, E.A., Kollar, M., Chen, F., & Semega, J. (2021). Income and poverty in the United States: 2020.

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ChalkyPapers. (2023) 'School to Prison Pipeline: The Intersectionality of Race and Poverty'. 20 February.


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1. ChalkyPapers. "School to Prison Pipeline: The Intersectionality of Race and Poverty." February 20, 2023.


ChalkyPapers. "School to Prison Pipeline: The Intersectionality of Race and Poverty." February 20, 2023.