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Ending the School-to-Prison Pipeline/Building Abolition Futures


Placing prison abolition on the horizon for scholars committed to interrupting the flow of young people toward prisons and jails, this article offers movement analysis, frameworks and associated questions surrounding advocacy and engagement. First, I offer a brief state of the field of research and advocacy surrounding school-to-prison work. Building from this assessment, I identify four ongoing tensions within this field that is, by definition, theoretically explicitly linked to advocacy for justice. Our challenges include exceptionality, specifically our desires to center children and youth in our analysis and organizing, and concurrently how carceral practices continue to change the face of the state and require us to track how alternatives to incarceration are defined and organized. We also struggle to build sustainable and viable decarceration initiatives and to develop ways to make schools and communities safer, without augmenting a carceral state, and to address state and interpersonal violence, while integrating an intersectional analysis that includes lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered and queer lives and feminist standpoints. Finally, I close with a push for scholars to continually evaluate professional investments, and invite readers to consider how our scholarly locations augment or constrain our ability to participate in building transformative schools and communities.

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  1. 1.

    Queer encompasses not just gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered, but all non-heteronormative and non-gender conforming identifications.

  2. 2.

    For a more extensive discussion on the local economics of prison expansion, see Gilmore (2007). Gilmore documents how a small California town, Corcoran, lobbied for a prison, and providing local economic futures for young people was offered as the rationale for a prison (p. 171–172).

  3. 3.

    For example, simply asking select “good” gays to be recognized as equals by the state does not redistribute access to all the important resources attached, for example, to marriage.

  4. 4.

    And I believe that this is how, in anti-prison movements, those “too bruised by history” (Berlant, as cited in Rhodes 2005, p. 402) such as those convicted of sexual assault or child pornography, get dropped out of the movement.

  5. 5.

    Formal and ad hoc groups are focused on this nationally and I track their work: Story Telling and Organizing Project/Creative Inventions and the Audre Lorde Project/Safe Outside the System. Locally, I am involved with Project Nia, a group providing transformative justice. Accountability is difficult. We don’t have great tools but abolitionist organizations are at the forefront of trying to imagine and build new tools.

  6. 6.

    This research by Himmelstein and Bruckner follows a decade of work by advocacy organizations including the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Educators Network (GLSEN) that clearly outlines how LGBTQ and gender non-conforming youth are also disproportionately targeted for suspension and expulsions and also denied the right to an education (for example, see Kosciw and Diaz 2009).


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Many thanks to Bill Ayers, Laurie Fuller, Jean Hughes, Toussaint Losier, Therese Quinn, the editors of this special issue—Amy Swain and George Noblit—and to the fierce peeps at Critical Resistance.

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Correspondence to Erica R. Meiners.

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Meiners, E.R. Ending the School-to-Prison Pipeline/Building Abolition Futures. Urban Rev 43, 547 (2011).

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  • Prison abolition
  • Educational justice
  • Anti-Racism
  • Gender and sexuality
  • Scholar-activisim