The new disciplinology: Research, theory, and remaining puzzles on the school-to-prison pipeline

Publication Title

Journal of Criminal Justice

Document Type


Department or Program


Publication Date



Background: The school-to-prison pipeline is a relatively recent phenomenon identified by researchers as a link between negative school outcomes, such as discipline, and involvement in the justice system. Purpose: To critically examine the school-to-prison pipeline, focusing on race and discipline, as an extension of the “risk society” that has emerged in the last twenty to thirty years. Research, theory, and remaining puzzles with respect to the school-to-prison pipeline are examined. Results: Changes in education and penal policy have converged to increase the chances that students who do not succeed in school become enmeshed in the criminal justice system. The causal link between the two systems is less clear, but a focus on risk is present in both arenas. However, disparities—particularly racial disparities, much like those found in the criminal justice system—persist in school discipline that have yet to be adequately explained. Conclusions: Further research is needed to understand and explain the relationship between school and penal policies, educational outcomes and involvement with the criminal justice system. Irrespective of whether the link is causal, the disparities that exist and increasing numbers of those impacted by exclusionary discipline coupled with negative educational outcomes suggest a new approach should be explored.