The School to Prison Pipeline: Long-Run Impacts of School Suspensions on Adult Crime

Research Rundown Issue: June '21
Publisher: National Bureau of Economic Research
Date Published: September '19


Using data from a school district in North Carolina, the study explores the relationship between suspensions, achievement, and incarceration. The district data provided a rigorous way to test the causal effects of suspensions because, in 2002, schools were redistricted and about 50% of students were assigned to new schools. Using this data, researchers found that students who were assigned to schools that had high suspension rates were 15-20% more likely to be arrested and incarcerated as adults and that they were also less likely to attend a four-year college. These effects were starker for male students of color.

The researchers also found direct evidence that a school’s suspension rate changes when it gets a new principal, suggesting that school leaders have discretion over school discipline policies and that when they lean toward harsher discipline that it has a negative, long-term impact on students—particularly male students of color.

Why This Matters in Minnesota

Minnesota’s history of disproportionately suspending and expelling Black and Indigenous students at higher rates than white students is well-documented. Local advocates have been calling for action on this issue for years, there has been some progress made at the Minnesota legislature. This year legislators seriously considered several provisions that would improve school climate, strengthen parental involvement, and ensure that students have due process, including a ban on suspending K-3 students, but could not come to a final agreement. Studies like this point to how important it will be to act with more urgency on school discipline reform.

Learn more about the study