The School-To-Prison Pipeline: An Examination of the Association Between Suspension and Justice System Involvement
This study is informed by both deterrence theory (Nagin, 1998) and Elliott, Ageton, and Canter’s (1979) integrated theoretical perspective. Deterrence theory argues that individuals are deterred from engaging in delinquent and criminal behavior if consequences assigned for the behavior are appropriately swift, severe, and certain (Nagin, 1998, 2003; Pratt, Cullen, Blevins, Daigle, & Madensen, 2006). According to the theory, to be effective in deterring undesired behaviors, assigned consequences must befall all those who engage in the behavior, must be appropriately severe in light of the behavior, and must be administered immediately following the undesired behavior; if punishments are not swift, certain, or appropriately severe, they will not deter delinquent/criminal behavior. Deterrence theory argues deterrence works at both the individual and societal levels (Nagin, 1998; Pratt et al., 2006). At the individual level, specific deterrence indicates individuals who experience an appropriately swift, severe, and certain consequence for their delinquent/ criminal behavior will be less likely to engage in this type of behavior in the future; general deterrence argues that appropriately swift, severe, and certain consequences will deter delinquent and criminal behavior across individuals, even if they have never experienced the consequence firsthand.
Exclusionary disciplinary strategies including school suspension are rooted in deterrence ideals (Mongan & Walker, 2012). School zero-tolerance policies, designed to deter antisocial and delinquent behaviors in students, mandate suspension and/or expulsion for all students believed to have engaged in a range of pre-identified behaviors; these exclusionary disciplinary responses are intended to be delivered swiftly following behaviors to all identified students (Mongan & Walker, 2012). According to deterrence theory, youth behavior should improve following suspension, as youth will be deterred from engaging in future antisocial/ delinquent behavior by the experience (Hirschfield, 2008; Maimon, Antonaccio, & French, 2012; Way, 2011). In addition, strict zero-tolerance policies mandating out-of-school suspension are thought to generally deter antisocial behavior among the student body. The threat of out-of-school suspension is thought to be sufficiently severe to deter antisocial behavior among all students, including those without firsthand experience (Mongan & Walker, 2012). According to deterrence theory, zero-tolerance policies and out-of-school suspension should therefore reduce antisocial and delinquent behaviors in both suspended and non-suspended youth in the school setting.