The Culture of Control in Schools: How Punitive and Disadvantaged Spaces Impact Race-Specific Suspension Rates

Published date01 November 2022
Date01 November 2022
Subject MatterArticles
Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice
2022, Vol. 38(4) 384 –410
© The Author(s) 2022
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/10439862221110984
The Culture of Control in
Schools: How Punitive and
Disadvantaged Spaces Impact
Race-Specific Suspension
Cresean Hughes1
Across American societal institutions, a punitive culture of control and surveillance
has manifested in a variety of ways, including exponential growth in incarceration
rates and school suspension rates over the last four decades. To date, much of
the scholarship exploring the relationship between criminal justice outcomes
and school-based outcomes has focused primarily on how school punishment is
consequential for future involvement in the justice system. What remains unclear,
however, is whether an alternative relationship exists. That is, does a culture of
control foster an environment where punitiveness in the criminal justice system
is mirrored by punitiveness within schools? Drawing on carceral perspectives and
place-based stratification theories and analyzing a random sample of Florida middle
and high schools combined with school district data, several key findings emerge.
Specifically, Black and Hispanic students are more likely to be suspended in places
with higher incarceration rates; all students are more likely to be suspended in
places with greater concentrated disadvantage; and Black and Hispanic students are
significantly more likely to be suspended when attending schools in places with high
incarceration rates and greater concentrated disadvantage. These findings highlight
the interconnectedness of place and social control in the school setting.
school punishment, incarceration, concentrated disadvantage, culture of control
1University of Delaware, Newark, DE, USA
Corresponding Author:
Cresean Hughes, Department of Sociology and Criminal Justice, University of Delaware, 18 Amstel
Avenue, 314 Smith Hall, Newark, DE 19716, USA.
1110984CCJXXX10.1177/10439862221110984Journal of Contemporary Criminal JusticeHughes
Hughes 385
The criminalization of American school students has been a consistent theme over the
last four decades (Hirschfield, 2008; Morris, 2016; Rios, 2011). In response to real and
perceived concerns over school violence, schools and school districts have embraced
increased security and surveillance measures and zero-tolerance policies (Simon,
2007). This intensification of disciplinary and safety strategies in schools has coincided
with increased office referrals (Rocque & Paternoster, 2011), detentions, suspensions,
and expulsions (Gottfredson & Gottfredson, 2001). The Office of Civil Rights (OCR)
reports that dating back to the 2000–2001 school year, even as student misconduct rates
have declined, at least 3 million of the approximately 50 million students in U.S.
schools have experienced exclusionary school punishment annually (U.S. Department
of Education, 2018). Notably, students of color have disproportionately borne the brunt
of this punitive school environment (Jacobsen et al., 2019; Bell, 2021). Compared to
their White counterparts, Black and Hispanic students are more likely to be suspended
(Government Accountability Office, 2018; Lehmann et al., 2021; Hughes et al., 2017),
more likely to be suspended for their first infraction (Fabelo et al., 2011), more likely to
receive office referrals (Rocque & Paternoster, 2011), more likely to be suspended for
the same or lesser offenses (U.S. Department of Education, 2018), and less likely to
receive restorative discipline (Welch & Payne, 2010). These disparities persist even
after controlling for student misconduct (Gregory & Weinstein, 2008).
As scholars have attempted to explore the factors associated with the escalation of
and the racial and ethnic disparities in school punishment, one explanation that has
received less attention is incarceration. Given the 400% increase in the U.S. incarcera-
tion rate over the last 40 years, a present-day prison population of approximately 1.5
million, and the disproportionately stratifying effects of incarceration (Brayne, 2014),
it is reasonable to consider whether the intensification in criminal justice punitiveness
is indicative of a culture of control that is reflected across other societal contexts, espe-
cially schools (Alexander, 2010; Garland, 2001). In other words, is there a culture of
control that is locally concentrated to the extent that incarceration and school punish-
ment are associated? To date, existing scholarship has given this possibility less
Much of the research examining the relationship between schools and incarceration
has explored whether school outcomes predict future involvement in the criminal jus-
tice system (Mowen & Brent, 2016; Pesta, 2018; Wolf & Kupchik, 2017). Although
research supports the notion that school outcomes influence the likelihood of future
criminal justice contact, this study considers whether an alternative relationship exists
also—the possibility that punishment in the criminal justice system is associated with
punishment in schools. That is, are incarceration rates associated with school suspen-
sion rates? Consequently, a growing literature has highlighted how the differences in
punishment in the justice system and punishment in other institutions have become
less distinguishable (Hirschfield, 2008; Wacquant, 2001). Because of this carceral
mesh, the major themes of the modern justice system—surveillance, correction, and
control—have been expanded and adopted across societal institutions, particularly

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT