Changing the Narrative--
Breaking the Preschool to Prison Pipeline Toolkit

The Campaign: Changing the Narrative--
Breaking the Preschool to Prison Pipeline

This campaign seeks to effect change in the narrative of misconceptions and misperceptions about the most affected populations of children caught and funneled through the preschool to prison pipeline and engender understanding in the broader community that criminalizing child behavior is contradictory to creating better outcomes.

When biased perceptions become a child's reality...

Graphic courtesy of Maria Belen

Our Shared Values

Breaking the Preschool to Prison Pipeline

Education Equity

All children deserve access to high-quality and equitable educational opportunities without fear of discrimination or criminalization.

Justice Equity

Restorative justice practices are more effective discipline measures and produce better outcomes than creating “hardened” school campuses that look and feel like prisons.

Health Care Equity

Children who suffer from adverse childhood experiences deserve equitable access to the health care resources and services they require, including behavioral health supports.

Racial Equity

Systemic racism and a white supremacy culture are root causes for the criminalization, adultification and dehumanization of Black children.

The Issue: Preschool to Prison Pipeline

In its most basic form, the preschool to prison pipeline is the use of exclusionary discipline practices (such as suspensions, expulsions, charges of being unruly, disrespectful, willful, etc.) that remove primarily children of color; children of low income or poverty; children who have a learning disability or difference; and emerging LGBTQIA2S+ out of the formal educational setting and into the alternative education, juvenile justice and/or criminal justice systems.

In order to break the cycle of generational criminal and juvenile justice involvement, there must be an intentional, collective investment in schools, communities and appropriate supportive services for children and adults to ensure that all children and families can succeed.

VIDEO: Dr. Rosemarie Allen: Preschool-to-Prison Pipeline
In her TEDxMileHigh talk, early childhood education expert Dr. Rosemarie Allen discusses how the pipeline starts earlier than most think. Learn more from Dr. Allen about the preschool-to-prison pipeline and how adult self-awareness can be part of the solution. 

VIDEO:  The school-to-prison pipeline, explained (VOX)
There’s this phrase you hear in the news sometimes: the school-to-prison pipeline. It’s shorthand for how schools are funneling students— especially black students—into the criminal justice system.

Get discipline data for GA schools

An Overview of Exclusionary Discipline Practices in Public Schools for the 2017-18 School Year

Changing the Narrative:
Language Matters

For decades, even centuries, our society has appropriated language to adultify, criminalize, dehumanize children. Click on the "Language Matters" button for a list of terms  still applied today to describe their status, behavior, character and potential.  The origins of some  of these words stretch back to the 12th and 13th centuries!

Have you ever used any of these words to describe children?  What was the situation?

What do you hear?

"What do you hear?" provides in text and images an opportunity for the viewer to begin to understand that language matters.  The viewer is presented with a series of words commonly applied to children that dehumanizes, adultifies and criminalizes them--and asks the question, "What do you hear?" Have you used these words when referring to children?

The presentation also offers insight into how biases can lead to negative perceptions of and a lack of empathy for children as early as preschool; and highlights conversations with youth who have reached the end of the pipeline--incarceration. What do you hear?

"What do you hear?"

Learn more about Adultification, Criminalization, Dehumanization

Practices, Methods and Programs that Work

What are the practices, methods and programs used by schools working to end the preschool to prison pipeline?

According to Jason P. Nance of the University of Florida Levin College of Law, "We need more schools where children want to attend because they feel part of a special community that cares for one another, helps each other succeed, and expects the best from one another.  These schools do not rely on SROs, metal detectors, zero-tolerance policies, suspensions, expulsions, and referrals to law enforcement to create a climate where students can learn.  Rather, these schools focus intensely on:

(a) teaching and learning and meeting the needs of their students;

(b) helping students develop social and emotional intelligence, including race relations intelligence;

(c) enhancing the school climate and teaching students appropriate behavior using a multi-tiered behavior intervention model like schoolwide Positive Behavior and Intervention Supports (SWPBIS);

(d) employing restorative justice circle groups to resolve differences and integrate offenders back into the school community;

(e) using data to identify and address emerging negative patterns;

(f) understanding and countering implicit bias."

Some of the programs that have been identified as successful in addressing the preschool to prison pipeline:
-  Positive Behavioral Interventions & Supports (PBIS)
On-Campus Intervention Program (OCIP)
Consistency Management Cooperative Discipline (CMCD)
Cultural diversity training
Just Discipline
Addressing the over-reliance on police in public schools
School-Justice Partnership/System of Care framework

Community Speaks - Real Stories from the Community

[Milledgeville, GA]
Police defend 6-year-old's handcuffing 11alive 4/16/2012
"Milledgeville's police chief says he supports his officer's handcuffing a 6-year-old for her safety after she allegedly threw a tantrum."

[Clayton County]
School-Justice Partnership
In 2003, the number of school arrests in Clayton County had reached an all-time high: 1,229 in the academic school year. Clayton County’s Juvenile Justice Chief Judge and the superintendent of Clayton County Public Schools came together to find a solution. The result was the creation of a School-Justice Partnership to engage the community in achieving effective, sustainable outcomes for Clayton County youth and families.

Clayton County’s Juvenile Justice Chief Judge and the superintendent of Clayton County Public Schools came together to find a solution. The result was the creation of a School-Justice Partnership to engage the community in achieving effective, sustainable outcomes for Clayton County youth and families. The partnership implemented a coordinated System of Care framework to build a safe, healthy, educated, work-ready youth population that in turn would promote a thriving community.

[Fulton County]
The Consequences of the School to Prison Pipeline in  Georgia (2/18/20)
"Wenona Clark Belton, associate court judge for the Juvenile Court of Fulton County, says the consequences of the school to prison pipeline are 'real—and devastating.' Though the scales of justice are tilted toward mass incarceration, she offers solutions that will tilt them back in the opposite direction. 'Children who cannot read well are often disruptive, bored, distracted, and embarrassed,' said Belton. 'Children who are disruptive in school are excluded from school, and that is largely the result of school-based referrals.'"

[Gwinnett County]
Gwinnett educators demand diversity, equality in curriculum ajc 7/30/20
"Gwinnett Educators for Equity and Justice approached district officials with a list of suggestions that will diversify curriculum and staffing."

Get Georgia Reading Beyond 2020 Summit—
Wenona Clark Belton, Juvenile Court of Fulton County (To our dismay, this video is no longer available.)

"MAKE IT MINE" Get Involved in the Campaign

Get involved in the campaign challenge to "Make It MINE!" Mobilize, Inform, Network, Engage

- Host a "Changing the Narrative:  Breaking the Preschool to Prison Pipeline" campaign roadshow event.

- Attend EMI Georgia Network's advocacy training.

- Share our Advocacy Talking Points with your organization, faith community, school community about how, as a community, we can break the preschool to prison pipeline.

- Participate in our legislative Calls to Action for policy change to break the preschool to prison pipeline.

- Like and follow our Facebook page and share our social media postings.

-  Check out other ways the network identified to "MAKE IT MINE!"

Changing the Narrative:  Breaking the Preschool to Prison Pipeline

Community Advocacy Actions

- Volunteer or mentor at your local school. See what is going on--help students with addressing the underlying causes of their “misbehavior.”

- Stop demonizing parents and help them. Connect with Strengthening Families Georgia and help create the best possible environment for the development of children and youth.

- Get informed. Educate yourself on the preschool, school and cradle to prison pipeline. You can start with this toolkit.

- Engage with EMI Georgia Network and other local groups that are working directly on solving this problem and provide your time, energy, knowledge and resources.

- Storytelling: Gather stories from parents whose children have been impacted by the preschool to prison pipeline and share them with us.

Let us know what you are doing!

The School-to-Prison Pipeline: The Business Side of Incarcerating, Not Educating, Students in Public Schools

Money Trail through the Pipeline

Today, states frequently engage in unscrupulous practices when it comes to throwing our children behind bars. For example, in the mid-2000s, private juvenile detention facilities in Luzerne County, Pennsylvania received tens of millions of dollars in government contracts to house youthful offenders. As a result, the industry of kids-for-cash became so pervasive that “[d]etention center workers were told in advance how many juveniles to expect at the end of each day—even before hearings to determine their innocence or guilt.”

Two local judges sent thousands of juvenile offenders to these private prisons, receiving $2.6 million in kickbacks. Children appeared before the judges following minor crimes such as mocking an assistant principal on a social media page, “trespassing in a vacant building,” and stealing DVDs from Wal-Mart. Punishments ranged from enrollment in a wilderness camp or boot camp all the way to detention. (Read full article)

Following the Money of Mass Incarceration

Resources for Parents

Pieces of the puzzle for parents and other caregivers

Georgia Department of Education

What Parents Need to Know

There are currently 181 school districts, large and small, across the state containing over 2,200 schools that employ over 114,800 teachers who educate approximately 1.6 million students every day.  The link below provides information on public, private, home and other special schools in the state of Georgia. If you have specific questions about any of these resources contact AskDOE at 1-800-311-3627 or speak with your local school district.

Georgia DOE link to list of
Schools and Districts in Georgia

Local: (404) 656-2800
Toll Free: (800) 311-3627 (GA)
Fax: (404) 651-6867
[email protected]

Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning

The Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning (DECAL) recently added a webpage on the Instructional Supports/Child and Family Development section of its website which focuses on helpful resources and information for families. The new page provides links to specific resources on timely topics including COVID-Specific Resources, Social and Emotional Wellness, Navigating Digital Learning, and Self-Care and Promoting Child Development. 

For more information visit, Resources for Families.

Gwinnett Parent Coalition to Dismantle the School to Prison Pipeline

The Gwinnett Parent Coalition to Dismantle the School to Prison Pipeline (Gwinnett SToPP) was formed to lead a parent-driven, community-centered partnership approach to dismantling the school to prison pipeline in Gwinnett County. The mission of Gwinnett SToPP is to build and strengthen relationships with the community in two constructive ways – parent/community advocacy training and policy-change facilitation. 

For more information, visit Gwinnett SToPP.

Georgia Appleseed's When My Child is Disciplined at School

Tools for parents, lawyers and others on how to respond to out-of-school suspension and other student disciplinary action can be found at:  Georgia Appleseed Discipline 

Georgia Coalition for Equity in Education (GCEE)

The Georgia Coalition for Equity in Education (GCEE) is a coalition of disability, educational, mental health, child welfare, juvenile justice, civil rights and parent and youth advocacy groups. 

Georgia Coalition for Equity in Education and sign up to receive more information!

Parent to Parent of Georgia

Parent to Parent of Georgia offers seven core services to Georgia families impacted by disabilities or special healthcare needs. 

For more information about Parent to Parent of Georgia and these services, visit

Strengthening Families Georgia

Strengthening Families™ is a research-informed framework and approach to preventing child abuse and neglect.  This approach focuses on family and community strengths and Protective Factors rather than risk factors. Protective Factors are what helps children and families thrive despite whatever risk factors they might face.

Protective factors aren’t just for families that are at risk for child abuse and neglect because all families benefit from having strong protective factors. 

For more information and to connect, visit Strengthening Families Georgia.  

Resources for Enlightenment

Historical Narrative of Racial Stereotyping of African Americans

Negative Racial Stereotypes and Their Effect on Attitudes Toward African-Americans -  "Stereotypes are "cognitive structures that contain the perceiver's knowledge, beliefs, and expectations about human groups" (Peffley et al., 1997, p. 31). These cognitive constructs are often created out of a kernel of truth and then distorted beyond reality (Hoffmann, 1986). Racial stereotypes are constructed beliefs that all members of the same race share given characteristics. These attributed characteristics are usually negative (Jewell, 1993)."

Racial stereotyping toward young children of color 

Substantial racial stereotyping toward young children of color found among white adults who work with them
"Young children and youth of color in the U.S. face significant racial stereotyping from white adults who work or volunteer with them.  This national study analyzed for the first time stereotypes held by white adults who work or volunteer with children across the U.S., examining their reported attitudes toward adults, teenagers and children from a range of racial and ethnic backgrounds. This includes attitudes toward black and Hispanic/Latinx groups, but also toward those from Native American, Asian and Arab backgrounds."

How Racial Awareness Shapes Play Politics 

Video  presentation
Dr. Toni Sturdivant, PhD, Assistant Professor of Curriculum and Instruction, Texas A&M University-Commerce, argues “how young Black children view their racial identities matters, and this is applicable to children of the African diaspora as a whole, as well Africans residing in the continent, as we are all exposed to messages of anti-blackness, due to the colonization, imperialism and the globalization of Western media that promotes Eurocentric beauty standards and anti-Blackness.”

“I’m Gonna Cook My Baby in a Pot”: Young Black Girls’ Racial Preferences and Play Behavior

Sana Qadar interviews Dr. Toni Sturdivant:  Dolls can tell us a lot about how kids see the world–especially when it comes to race. One American researcher spent months watching pre-schoolers play with dolls and what she observed shocked her. Plus, did you know the very first study of children and their thoughts about dolls actually changed the course of American history?  (Read more and access interview)

Bill Moyers Interview with Dr. Henry Giroux on the School to Prison Pipeline 

Video Interview
"Henry Armand Giroux is an American and Canadian scholar and cultural critic. One of the founding theorists of critical pedagogy in the United States, he is best known for his pioneering work in public pedagogy, cultural studies, youth studies, higher education, media studies, and critical theory."

Another link in the pipeline

The Charter-to-Prison Pipeline by Alexandria Millet - "The charter system that often paints itself as a better option for black parents does not acknowledge the harm rigid disciplinary policies can impose on black students."

Criminalization of Black Children

The Criminalization of Black Children: Race, Gender and Delinquency in Chicago's Juvenile Justice System, 1899-1945. "Agyepong argues that when black children migrated north to Chicago in the wake of abolition, they encountered a fledgling set of juvenile justice and child-welfare institutions that gradually adopted differential treatment toward black and white youth. One of the many highlights of Agyepong's work is the use of case studies of particular children to illustrate how institutions shifted their conceptions and treatment of children in an attempt to distance white youth from the conditions of newly freed black youth."

From Preschool to Prison: The Criminalization of Black Girls (12/8/2017)
"The 'school-to-prison pipeline' discussion often neglects the ways in which black girls are disproportionately and unfairly disciplined by the U.S. education system. Recent data show that schools are expelling and suspending black girls at alarming rates, which can lead to a harmful cycle of criminality that persists throughout their adult lives."

Schools need to acknowledge their part in the criminalization of Black youth, Stanford scholar says (6/18/2020)
"A former special education teacher in both public schools and youth prisons, Annamma is the author of the recent book The Pedagogy of Pathologization, which explores the construction of criminal identities in schools through the experiences of disabled girls of color. Her research focuses on making education more equitable for historically marginalized students."

Adultification of Children of Color

Research Confirms that Black Girls Feel the Sting of Adultification Bias Identified in Earlier Georgetown Law Study
"Building on its groundbreaking 2017 Girlhood Interrupted study showing that adults view black girls as more adult-like and less innocent than white girls, Georgetown Law’s Center on Poverty and Inequality today released a follow-up study that finds black girls routinely experience adultification bias."

Black Boys Viewed as Older, Less Innocent Than Whites, Research Finds
"Black boys as young as 10 may not be viewed in the same light of childhood innocence as their white peers, but are instead more likely to be mistaken as older, be perceived as guilty and face police violence if accused of a crime, according to new research published by the American Psychological Association."

The Atlantic:  How America Outlawed Adolescence (Nov. 2016)

"At least 22 states make it a crime to disturb school in ways that teenagers are wired to do. Why did this happen?"  (Read more)

How Racism Can Affect Child Development (Harvard U)

"Years of scientific study have shown us that, when children’s stress response systems remain activated at high levels for long periods, it can have a significant wear-and-tear effect on their developing brains and other biological systems. This can have lifelong effects on learning, behavior, and both physical and mental health."  (Read more)