Students Work to Stem the School-to-Prison Pipeline

“This experience enlightened my law school journey,” says Lillian Speaks, a 3L student in Youth, Education and Justice, a Legal Theory and Practice (LTP) course originally offered as the School-to-Prison Pipeline, which launched this past fall at Maryland Carey Law.

“Overall, the vast range of experiences from working with high school children to advocating with the community on behalf of the children moved me. It made me appreciate the opportunities, power, and impact that come with being able to attend law school.”   

The school-to-prison pipeline describes the unintended “push out” of students from the educational system into the juvenile and criminal justice system due to a variety of factors, including the overuse and unfair application of exclusionary punishments like suspensions. During the Fall 2016 semester, twelve LTP students studied the complex causes of, and worked to dismantle, the school-to-prison pipeline.

Taught by Professor Michael Pinard, who has a criminal defense background, and Professor Deborah Thompson Eisenberg, who has a civil rights and conflict resolution background, the course gave law students the opportunity to combine a range of strategies to address a complex social problem. Law students worked directly with Baltimore City youth on conflict prevention and resolution strategies, testified in support of school discipline changes, and partnered with other legal advocacy groups to take action to address the problem.

School-to-Prison Pipeline LTP students in
Washington, D.C.

School-to-Prison Pipeline LTP students in
Washington, D.C.

Yvette Pappoe, 3L, says “The strongest aspect of this clinic was its holistic approach. With a problem as complex as the school to-prison pipeline, it was essential for us to combine policy work with advocacy and conflict resolution.”

For most students in the class, the highlight was working directly with Baltimore City youth. LTP students taught a Conflict Resolution and Community Justice class at Frederick Douglass High School. As 2L Katie Rodriquez shares, “Teaching conflict resolution and restorative practices to the youth at Frederick Douglass has been my favorite aspect of the field work component for this course.” The law students inspired the high school students to find their voice. Rodriquez describes, “We discussed the meaning of conflict, how to resolve conflicts in a positive way, and ways to prevent them from escalating. . .   I am not sure if the students are ever given the platform to voice their thoughts on a lot of today’s conflicts, so I believe each student came to value the time that they spent with us each week.” 

LTP students also supported restorative classroom dialogue circles at Callaway Elementary School in West Baltimore. The law students experienced first-hand how daily circles can improve classroom climate. As Jen Auger, 3L, says, “Seeing the students actively engaged, especially the ones who didn’t normally participate, was really touching. The circles built a sense of community in the classroom.”  

Prof. Deborah Thompson Eisenberg (left) and Barbara Sugarman Grochal (second from right) of C-DRUM join School-to-Prison Pipeline LTP students to testify before the Maryland General Assembly in Annapolis.

Prof. Deborah Thompson Eisenberg (left) and Barbara Sugarman Grochal (second from right) of C-DRUM join School-to-Prison Pipeline LTP students to testify before the Maryland General Assembly in Annapolis.

In addition to working with youth, LTP students provided comments to the U.S. Department of Justice about the consent decree with the Baltimore City Police Department, and testified about school discipline policy before the Baltimore City Public Schools school board.  At the end of the semester, the LTP students visited Capitol Hill to share their findings and experiences with Congressional staff. LTP students also worked with Disability Rights Advocates, representing students with disabilities and published op-eds about important issues.

As 2L Aarti Sardana shared, “It is great to feel so connected to the ‘real world.’  This doesn’t happen often in law school, and it should happen more. Having the opportunity to attend my first school board meeting was very eye opening and I did not expect to be so moved by students that had the opportunity to present their recent work.”


Five students are continuing their work in the Spring 2017. A major focus of this semester includes legislative advocacy that will help to support education and stem the school-to-prison pipeline. Through her March 20, 2017 op-ed published in The Baltimore Sun, Sardana commented that "Rather than imposing out-of-school suspension or expulsion on our youngest learners, [current legislation being considered by the general assembly] would require school systems to use alternatives to suspension, such as positive behavior supports and interventions or behavior intervention plans."

 Dena Robinson, 3L and former teacher who testified in support of a restorative practices bill before the Maryland legislature, summed up her experience this way: “What moves me the most with work I am extremely passionate about, like education and school to prison pipeline issues, is knowing that the work I am doing is having an impact.”

Back to News & Events