Book Review: The prison school: Educational inequality and school discipline in the age of mass incarceration

Date01 December 2018
Published date01 December 2018
Subject MatterBook Reviews
CJR727814 512..519 Book Reviews
Criminal Justice Review
2018, Vol. 43(4) 512-423
Book Reviews
ª 2017 Georgia State University
Article reuse guidelines:
Simmons, L. (2017).
The prison school: Educational inequality and school discipline in the age of mass incarceration. Oakland: University
of California Press. 206 pp. $29.95 (hardcover), ISBN 978-0-520-28146-2.
Reviewed by: Michael Hazlett, Western Illinois University, Gainesville, FL, USA
DOI: 10.1177/0734016817727814
When reviewing this work, this review was somewhat expecting more qualitative support for the
school-to-prison pipeline that has adversely affected African American communities. What was
found was a much richer ethnographic approach that argued a more subtle approach toward crim-
inalization, labeling, and higher risk of incarceration. This work is exceptional in that it tackles
integrates an historical and case study approach.
Given the overall punitive approach of 21st-century corrections and the decline of public edu-
cational resources, Simmons’s research is contemporary and farsighted. It is contemporary because
it reveals the hidden cost in lives and potential that could be developed by significant public
education. It is historical by revealing a gradual growth of criminalization of school discipline and
the evolution of private corrections. This criminalization and privatization occurred while resources
directed toward treatment and public education declined. The author’s contribution is beyond just
race and over incarceration. It encompasses the process of continuing exclusion of vulnerable youth
from educational opportunities, while moving vulnerable these populations toward mass incarcera-
tion—especially for young and poor African American males.
This work well documents an historical record of how public education evolved from a more
tolerate educational model toward behavioral infractions to a model of punitive discipline and
security. With the assistance of law enforcement, Latino and African American males receive
disciplinary attention for noncriminal behavior. Such behavior historically would not have been
as punitive within the schools and would likely have not involved the criminal justice apparatus.
Such historical changes parallel development of privatization of juvenile and adult corrections
programs—as illustrated by the State of Louisiana’s use of such private programs. Especially for
poor Black youth, the school-to-prison pipeline is illustrated by the rapid incarceration rates from the
1980s to the present—especially for African American males. The end result is the “diaspora” or
dispersion of vulnerable populations through declining education opportunities and greater penetra-
tion into the criminal justice system—leaving traditional African American Communities and fam-
ilies fragmented.
Simmons illustrates the formation of the school-to-prison pipeline as gradual push from public
education toward an experimental “Prison School” in Orleans Parish. This school, within the jail
complex, was initially sanctioned by Orleans Parish Public Schools. The school was designated as a
point of referral for at-risk Black male youth. Such referrals were rationalized as a way to divert such
youth from the...

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