“Preschool-to-Prison Pipeline” hypothesis grounded in research

The topic of marginalization of Black children, especially Black male children, in the U.S. education system is one that has recently garnered public attention. It is commonly known that the treatment of children in early childhood has major implications for their development and trajectory into adolescent and even adulthood. The “preschool-to prison pipeline” paradigm for Black males has been recently supported by various research studies. This pipeline can be conceptualized as a series of roadblocks and obstacles that hinder Black children from academic success but funnel them into the criminal justice system. While African Americans make up only about 15% of the general United States population, they are disproportionately locked up in jails and prisons across the country. A recent report by the U.S. Department of Education showed that 42% of black preschoolers had been suspended at least once and 48% had been suspended on multiple occasions.

A study put out by the Annie E. Casey Foundation showed that Black children fell on the lower side of most performance indices including high school graduation rates, math and reading performance, parental education, and poverty. The conclusion drawn by that report was that, “The index scores of African-American children should be considered a national crisis.” Another study carried out by Professor Phillip Goff at UCLA explored the estimation of age of Black children by police officers and college students. The participants in this study were told beforehand that children in the pictures they would be viewing had committed crimes. The study found that the Black children were more likely to have higher age estimates compared to nonblack children. The conclusion made was that the Black children were perceived to be “significantly less innocent” than the other children. These findings point to the need for a comprehensive overhaul of the current educational system to one which aims to provide equitable, comprehensive, and quality educational instruction and opportunities for all.

Adedotun Ogunbajo, Joint Center Graduate Scholar, Johns Hopkins School of Public Health