School to Prison Pipeline

Policing ‘Crime’ and ‘Violence’ - Lecture 6

Lecturer: Dr Karen Graham

March 15, 2021

The potential link between educational ‘failure’ and offending is often debated. Discussions frequently focus on the community, cultural or family backgrounds from which the children who ‘fail’ come, and/or on more adequate provision for those ‘at risk’ of school and social exclusion. These discussions often prioritise the apparent significance of race, class and gender, indicated by the over-representation of poor, male, Black students in punitive school disciplinary processes and a parallel disproportionality in the criminal justice system. However, many of these approaches assume educational systems to be intrinsically good and consider cases of educational failure to be anomalies that require ironing out. This session will consider a different view. Drawing on classic sociological theories of education it will introduce the connections between social control and education. It will also ask us to consider what an exploration of the school-to-prison pipeline can tell us about the entire education system.


  • Bowles, S. and Gintis, H. (2002) Schooling in Capitalist America Revisited. Sociology of Education, 75(1): 1-18.
  • Davis, A. Y. (2003) Are Prisons Obsolete? New York: Seven Stories Press.
  • Foucault, M. (1991) Discipline and Punish. The Birth of the Prison. London: Penguin Books Ltd.
  • Graham, K. (2014) Does school prepare men for prison? City: analysis of urban trends, culture, theory, policy, action, 18(6): 824-836.
  • Graham, K. (2016) The British School-To-Prison Pipeline. In L.A. Palmer and K Andrews (Eds) Blackness in Britain. London: Routledge.
  • Perera, J. (2020) How Black Working-Class Youth are Criminalised and Excluded in the English School System. A London Case Study. London: Institute of Race Relations.
  • Willis, P. (1977) Learning to Labour. How working class kids get working class jobs. Aldershot: Ashgate Publishing Ltd.


Questions for Discussion

  1. What is the myth of meritocracy in education and how might it link to wider social inequalities?
  2. How and why have ideas around the disruptive pupil deserving of exclusion and the criminal deserving of imprisonment been historically racialised, classed and gendered?
  3. What can the school-to-prison pipeline teach us about the wider system of education? What impact might the hidden curriculum of schooling be having on everyone?