Testing the School to Prison Pipeline

WP 2015-5.1

Author: Emily G. Owens


The School-to-Prison Pipeline is a social phenomenon where students become formally involved with the criminal justice system as a result of school politics that use law enforcement, rather than school discipline, as a way to address behaviorial problems. A potentially important part of the School-to-Prison Pipeline is the use of School Resource Officers (SROs) with arrest powers in certain schools. However, there is little research on the causal effect of hiring these officers on juvenile crime or arrests. Using credibly exogenous variation in the use of SROs generated by federal hiring grants specifically to place law enforcements in schools, I find evidence that law enforcement agencies learn more about crimes in schools upon receipt of a grant. They are also more likely to make arrests for those crimes, which primarily affects children under the age of 15. However, I find evidence that SROs help law enforcement agencies make arrests for drug charges on and off school grounds, and may increase crime reporting in jurisdictions with larger minority populations.

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