An immediate end to the criminalization and dehumanization of black youth across all areas of society, including, but not limited to, criminal and juvenile punishment and education systems, social service agencies, media, and pop culture


Black youth are systematically profiled and targeted by police, and make up 35% of arrests of people under 18; twice as likely to be arrested as white youth; disproportionately tried as adults; twice as likely to be sentenced to life without parole; five times as likely to be incarcerated or committed; and more likely to be sent to adult facilities, and to be held in solitary confinement. Disabled youth enter the system at 5 to 6 times the rate of nondisabled youth, and LGBTQ youth are disproportionately incarcerated in juvenile detention facilities.

Schools, instead of serving as places of learning, nurturing, and growth, have become pathways to prison. Black students are more likely than white students to be suspended, expelled, subjected to corporal punishment ,arrested, and referred to law enforcement while attending school, and are routinely denied the opportunity to fully participate in public education. Black students are twice as likely to be arrested or referred to law enforcement while at school.


  • Decriminalize youth under 23.
  • Remove police and surveillance from schools.
  • Direct resources toward violence prevention and transformative responses that create a nurturing and positive school climate for all students and create opportunities for youth to thrive in community.




Young Black people are demonized and criminalized in ways that limit their life chances at every point from birth to adulthood.

  • The power of prosecutors over young Black lives is profound. Black youth are more likely to be viewed and charged as adults and are almost twice as likely to be sentenced to life without parole than their white peers.
  • In 2014, Black youth were 14% of the youth population nationally, but 52.5% of the youth transferred to adult court by juvenile court judges, the highest percentage of Black youth transferred in nearly thirty years of data collection. And, the number of youth transferred to adult court by juvenile court judges is relatively small compared to the number transferred by prosecutors or excluded by law from juvenile court. Twelve states and DC allow prosecutors to directly file charges against youth to adult court without a juvenile court judge reviewing the decision.

These disparities increase at almost every step of the criminal punishment process, stealing the dignity of young Black people and forcing them onto lifelong pathways of criminalization and diminished opportunity. Once pushed into the criminal punishment system, Black youth face myriad collateral consequences that harm their future, their families, and their communities, including: increased risk of:

  •  sexual violence by law enforcement and penal officers, in foster care, and in locked facilities and group homes; 
  • loss of instructional time, course credits, and access to financial aid; legal costs and court fees; 
  • separation from family; 
  • emotional and physical trauma; 
  • challenges to immigration status; 
  • loss of housing; and loss of employment. 

For some youth, this means that a minor schoolyard scuffle could ultimately result in their family being evicted from public housing or deported.

These consequences only exacerbate entrenched racial educational and economic disparities faced by Black youth:

  • About 1 in 3 Black and American Indian/Alaska Native children and 1 in 4 Latinx children live below the poverty line, compared with 1 in 9 white children.
  • In 2015, the median family income of white households with children ($80,800) was about twice that of Black ($35,900) households with children.
  • Black families represent about half of homeless families with children.
  • The percent of Black households with food-insecure children was more than twice that of white households.

There is mounting research that children under the age of 23 do not have fully-developed brains and that the cheapest, most humane, and most cost-effective way to respond to normal youth behavior is not incarceration, but programs and investments that strengthen families, increase stability, and provide access to educational and employment opportunities. Prosecuting and punishing youth is not only cruel, it also permanently disadvantages them with a criminal record, which creates often insurmountable obstacles to completing their education, getting a job, finding housing, and thriving.

Criminalization in Schools

Across the country, Black children attend under-resourced schools, where they are often pushed off an academic track onto a track to prison. School policing is inextricably linked to this country’s long history of oppressing and criminalizing Black people based on the belief that Black people need to be controlled and intimidated. Historically, school police have acted as agents of the state to suppress student organizing and movement building, and to maintain the racially segregated status quo. Beginning in the 1950s, local, state, and federal government agencies, designed to protect dominant white institutions, made an intentional decision to police schools to exercise control of growing power in Black and Brown social movements. More recently, increased police presence in schools attended by youth of color, along with increased surveillance and social media monitoring, has been justified by shootings at predominantly white schools like Columbine and Parkland. Additionally, efforts to arm teachers have begun to spread.

“Zero tolerance” policies—a combination of exclusionary disciplinary policies and school-based arrests—are often the first stop along the school-to-prison pipeline, and play a key role in pushing students out of the school system and funneling them into jails and prisons. 

Black students are more likely than white students to be suspended, expelled, arrested, and referred to law enforcement while attending school, and are routinely denied the opportunity to fully participate in public education. There is evidence that suspensions significantly reduce the likelihood of graduation, and have a cumulative effect.

School Discipline

In the 2013-2014 school year, the most recent year for which data is available, more than two-and-a-half-million students were suspended from school—often for vague and subjective infractions such as “willful defiance” and “disrespect”—amounting to countless hours of lost instructional time. Forty percent of these students were Black, even though Black students only made up 15.5% of students. Across the country, Black students were more than twice as likely as their white classmates to be referred to law enforcement or arrested at school. As a result, Black students are denied an opportunity to learn and punished for routine child and adolescent behaviors that their white peers are often never disciplined for. For Black youth, the impact of exclusionary school discipline is far reaching—disengaging them from academic and developmental opportunities, and increasing the likelihood that they will be incarcerated later in life.

  • Black students with disabilities experience high rates of school discipline and arrest. Twenty-seven percent of Black boys with disabilities and 19% of Black girls with disabilities received at least one out-of-school suspension in 2011—2012.

Black girls have historically been overlooked in the national conversation around youth impacted by the school-to-prison pipeline. Yet, there are higher disciplinary disparities between Black girls and white girls than disciplinary disparities between Black boys and white boys.; In 2015-2016, nationwide, in comparison to white female students,

Black female students were:

  • 7 times more likely to receive 1 or more out-of-school suspension
  • 4 times more likely to be arrested
  •  4 times more likely to receive 1 or more in-school suspension
  •  Over 3 times more likely to receive corporal punishment
  • 3 times more likely to be referred to law enforcement
  • 2 times more likely to be physically restrained

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/ questioning, intersex, asexual, and gender non-conforming (LGBTQIA+ and GNC) students are disproportionately affected by exclusionary discipline and school policing. Schools can already be hostile environments for LGBTQIA+ and GNC students of color, and acting in self-defense to bullying often results in discriminatory punishment

The withdrawal of federal guidance directing schools to treat trans youth according to gender identity has contributed to this reality, prompting schools to enforce use of sex-segregated facilities, such as bathrooms and locker rooms, according to sex assigned at birth, often through arrests. 

School policing further funnels LGBTQIA and GNC students into a youth punishment system where they are twice as likely to be arrested and detained for a nonviolent offense. LGBTQIA+ and GNC youth have reported feeling targeted and “watched” by increased surveillance and school policing, as well as being cited for expressions of their gender identity. Additionally, rather than responding to bullying from their peers with support and restorative practices, LGBTQIA students have shared that school staff often blame them for their victimization.

Corporal Punishment

Black youth are also more likely to experience higher rates of corporal punishment. According to the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) at the U.S. Department of Education, in 2013-14, Black students constituted 17.1% of the nationwide student population, but 38.3% of those physically punished for school-based behavior. For Black students with disabilities, the number increased to 40.5%. In addition, while girls experience corporal punishment less than boys, in the 13 states that subject more than 1,000 students per year to physical punishment, Black girls are 2.07 times as likely as white girls to be beaten.


According to the most recently available data, 24% of elementary schools and 42% of high schools have police on campus. Those that do disproportionately serve young people of color: as of 2013, 51% of high schools with majority Black and Latinx enrollment had law enforcement officers on campus. The rate at which students are referred to law enforcement for lower-level offenses more than doubles when a school has regular contact with a “school resource officer”

Additionally, the presence of law enforcement officers increases the likelihood that students will be subjected to sexual harassment and assault and uses of force including Tasers, batons, and pepper spray. Some schools have even obtained military equipment through a Department of Defense military weapons transfer program (1033 program). 

According to the Alliance for Educational Justice, every week of the school year, a Black student is assaulted by a school police officer.

Police officers need not be stationed at schools to impact the lives of Black students: according to the Black Organizing Project, the Oakland School system calls police on students 6,000 times a year, while those in Birmingham, AL and Durham, NC make 4,000 such calls a year. The presence of law enforcement in and around schools also fuels the school-to-deportation pipeline for immigrant Black youth.


Black youth have consistently been demonized in the media and popular culture as “superpredators,” “gangsters,” “thugs,” “hos,” and “welfare queens,” with devastating consequences for young Black lives. These narratives have served as primary drivers of the systemic criminalization of Black youth: every crime bill passed by Congress throughout the 1980s and 1990s included new federal laws against juvenile crimes and enabled increased criminal penalties for children. Similar trends can be seen throughout state legislation. Policing practices like traffic stops, “stop and frisk,” and “broken windows policing” disproportionately, and often explicitly, target Black youth, contributing to disproportionately high rates of arrest and incarceration. Tens of thousands of youth under the age of 21 are currently incarcerated for offenses ranging from truancy to more serious charges.

  • “Gang policing” explicitly targets Black and Brown youth, subjecting them to restrictions on movement, association, and activity through gang injunctions, and to police profiling and abuse and enhanced sentencing through inclusion in “gang databases” maintained by city, county, state, and federal law enforcement agencies. These databases collect extensive information on thousands of people, designating them as “known” or “suspected” gang members—often based on information provided by police stationed in schools or engaged in “stop and frisk.”
  • Once designated a “gang member,” Black youth are subject to increased profiling, surveillance, and restrictions on activities through civil gang injunctions; are often subject to profiling, harassment, and greater use force during police interactions; and are at risk of being subjected to increased penalties if convicted of an offense under “gang enhancements.” Membership in any organization, whether formal or informal, including a group that may call itself or be described as a “gang,” is not itself illegal, and thus does not justify the maintenance of intelligence information, surveillance, or enhanced restrictions or punishment. Additionally, evidence cited by officers to justify inclusion in gang databases can be as little as wearing a particular color, or drawing a particular symbol in a school notebook, or being in a familial or other relationship with an actual or suspected gang member.
  • For instance, in Cook County, IL, almost half of people listed in the gang database are there in part because they have a tattoo an officer believes is associated with gang membership, and over half are there because they frequent or live in an area associated with a particular gang, “affect their style of dress,” or “maintain an ongoing relationship with known criminal gang members.” As a result of profiling and targeted policing of Black communities, individuals listed in gang databases are disproportionately Black. In Chicago, for example, 75% of people whose information is contained in the city’s gang database are Black.
  • As of 2011, Black youth were 44% more likely to be arrested for drug offenses than white youth, despite reporting equal rates of drug use, and two-and-a-half times as likely to be arrested for property crimes as whites. 
  • Black youth are also disproportionately arrested for “status offenses,” such as truancy, running away, or underage smoking, drinking, or driving, which are only criminalized when the person engaged in them is under 18. For instance, in 2011, Black youth were 269% more likely to be arrested for violating curfew laws than white youth.
  • Black girls, along with Native girls, experience family and gender-based violence, at greater levels than any other group in the U.S., serving as a critical driver of criminalization. For instance, Black girls who experience violence in the home are disproportionately subject to mandatory arrest when police are called, despite the fact that such policies were intended to address domestic violence among adults. Top arrest charges for girls consistently include assault, often a product of self-defense.


There is a critical need for a coordinated strategy in local communities to address rampant racial disparities in the application of zero-tolerance policies and criminalization practices that impact Black boys, girls, trans, intersex, gender nonconforming, and disabled youth. Fortunately, a powerful grassroots movement, led primarily by youth and parents of color, has taken shape across the country to address these harmful policies—but much more work remains. We need to collectively advance a grassroots organizing strategy at the local and state level that centers the work of ending the criminalization of Black youth through a racial, gender, and disability justice framework—led and informed by youth and parents.

We demand that policymakers address deprivation of resources to public schools and the state-sanctioned violence that stems from law enforcement presence, including ICE, and criminalization in schools by:

  • Removing police, armed security, ICE, probation, and metal detectors and other surveillance equipment and practices from schools.
  • Divesting funding from exclusionary discipline and school policing and investing in preventive and transformative programs that are proven to establish positive school climates and foster healthy relationships among school staff, administration, and students. Funding that is spent on school policing (payroll for school police officers, metal detectors, surveillance, and data sharing between schools and law enforcement) must be instead spent on creating schools that nurture and support students and their communities. Rather than harmful and racist zero tolerance policies, we demand that resources be directed to practices that help build stronger school communities and positive school climates by: 1) developing effective student, parent, and administrative leadership; 2) building trust, interconnection, and deeper relationships amongst students, parents, teachers, and staff; 3) providing methods to address problematic behavior in a way that gets to the root cause of conflicts and holds individuals and communities accountable without punishment; 4) repairing harm in a way that maintains the integrity of the community and doesn’t further isolate people who cause harm. We demand new federal funding streams that are exclusively dedicated to implementing transformative and proactive prevention practices and responses to interpersonal conflict and similar initiatives, and which cannot be used to fund programs that criminalize youth.
  • Focus on educational justice and transformative justice rather than on individual youth as the targets for change, including by addressing both explicit and implicit bias of teachers and administrators, and by creating structures for teachers and administrators to be held accountable and brought into right relationship with students and parents.
  • Ending corporal punishment.
  • Ending “stop and frisk” and “gang policing” programs and databases.
  • End criminalization of youth through status offenses such as curfew, truancy, and runaway laws.
  • End the practice of charging youth with misdemeanors and limit the ability to charge them with felonies, saving hundreds of millions of dollars annually and providing our children the opportunity to outlive their mistakes.
  • End the practice of charging and incarcerating children as adults.
  • Ensure effective implementation of prohibitions on youth solitary confinement and incarceration in adult facilities.


These solutions address exclusionary and punitive school discipline policies, surveillance, and criminalization in public schools across the nation that deny Black youth an opportunity to learn. 

These policies have the greatest impact on queer and trans youth, disabled youth, youth in foster care, migrant youth, and Black girls. The reinvestment aspect of the legislation would positively impact low, no-income, and homeless and precariously-housed youth by providing increased services.




Congressional Action

  • Pass the PUSHOUT! (Ending Punitive, Unfair, School-Based Harm that is Overt and Unresponsive to Trauma) Act, which would provide $2.5 billion to the U.S. Department of Education to improve collection of civil rights data and increase civil rights enforcement; create $2.5 billion in new federal grants to schools that agree 
  • to rewrite their discipline policies through a collaborative process with students, families, and communities; train educators in restorative practices and trauma-informed approaches; end corporal punishment and invest in counselors, social workers, school nurses, and mental health professionals instead of police officers, surveillance, or metal detectors.
  • Pass legislation to repeal all federal juvenile crimes, end trial and detention of youth as adults, and mandate reinvestment of savings into programs shown to reduce criminalization of youth, increase youth educational attainment, and support communities where youth incarceration has been most prevalent.
  • Amend the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA) to provide incentives to states to adopt statutes that ban the prosecution of children under the age of 23, and eliminate the “valid court order” provision which allows judges to incarcerate youth for simply violating any condition imposed by a judge.
  • Fully Fund Title I and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), and provide guidance on other funding mechanisms to address the needs of disabled students.

Agency Action

  • Reinstate the rescinded 2014 Department of Education and Department of Justice guidance against discriminatory school discipline practices with additional protections to safeguard migrant students, LGBTQ+ and GNC students, and disabled students throughout the U.S.
  • Reinstate Department of Education guidance outlining schools’ obligations regarding transgender students under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972.
  • Reinstate over 72 rescinded policies enforcing protections to students with disabilities.
  • Reject the Federal Commission on School Safety report, which recommends policies and practices to “harden schools” that, if implemented, would increase the level of discrimination, school pushout, and criminalization faced by Black students on a daily basis.

State Action

  • Pass legislation banning and removing police, probation, and immigration officers from schools and prohibiting referral of students to law enforcement or immigration authorities by school officials.
  • Pass legislation banning exclusionary discipline (suspensions, expulsions, and arrests) for all students pre-K through 12th grade, and for vague and subjective behaviors including willful defiance, disrespect, insubordination, and disturbing the peace or “disturbing a school.”
  • Pass legislation prohibiting the use of corporal punishment, strip searches, restraints, and seclusion in all educational settings.
  • Pass legislation prohibiting local school districts from arming school teachers or staff, and repeal existing legislation that permits or mandates arming school personnel.
  • Pass legislation requiring and funding the use of supportive services for students, including fully funding restorative programs and support for students in crisis in educational settings.
  • Pass legislation requiring and funding preventative and transformative practices for teachers and administrators to further protect students from racial profiling and targeting.
  • Pass legislation providing clear protections to disabled and LGBTQ and gender nonconforming youth in schools and the juvenile legal system.
  • Pass legislation requiring school districts and post-secondary institutions to provide support to pregnant and parenting students.
  • Implement a non-carceral, harm reduction-based, gender-responsive approach to children who experience gender-based violence and abuse, and use Medicaid funds to improve quality care and trauma-related services for girls, trans, intersex, and gender nonconforming youth.
  • Pass legislation repealing all existing state juvenile offenses, barring youth from being charged or incarcerated as adults or held in solitary confinement, and mandating a reinvestment strategy where savings would be captured and reinvested in programs shown to meet the needs of Black youth, increase youth educational attainment, and support communities where juvenile incarceration has been most prevalent.
  • Abolish gang databases.

Local Action

School boards and municipal legislatures must:

  • End “stop and frisk” programs and de-prioritize the arrest of youth for misdemeanors and low-level felonies.
  • End racial profiling and “hot-spot” policing.
  • Abolish gang units and databases and invest in violence prevention programs and expand resources for youth in communities.

  • Pass local legislation or school district policy banning and removing police, probation, and immigration officers from in and around schools. School districts must end their relationship, including both formal and informal arrangements, with local, county, and state police departments, end the use of chemical agents and physical restraints on students of all ages, and reject military grade weapons and equipment from the Federal Department of Defense through the Federal 1033 Program.

  • Enact policies that decriminalize student behavior, end all school-based arrests and summons, and end zero tolerance school discipline policies.
  • Eliminate vague and subjective laws and statutes that criminalize student behavior.
  • End all data sharing between school districts and local police departments and ICE, through gang databases and similar mechanisms.
  • Ban the use of corporal punishment, strip searches, restraints, and seclusion in all educational settings.
  • Enact local school district policy banning exclusionary discipline (suspensions, expulsions, and arrests) for all students pre-K through 12th grade, especially for vague and subjective behaviors including willful defiance, disrespect, insubordination, and disturbing the peace.
  • Enact local school district policy mandating that students and parents be included in the development of codes of conduct, including classroom and school-based policies, practices, and expectations of students and school personnel.
  • Invest in training for students, parents, teachers, and staff on restorative justice practices as an alternative to zero tolerance policies.
  • Enact local school district policy establishing mandatory annual professional development and training on bullying, harassment, and violence that is age-appropriate and gender-inclusive.
  • Fully fund comprehensive mental health programs and services for students and staff.
  • Pass legislation and policy requiring and funding transformative justice practices for teachers and administrators to further protect students from racial profiling and targeting.
  • Pass legislation and policy prohibiting schools from arming teachers or staff, and repeal existing legislation or policies that allow for or mandate arming school personnel.
  • Enact strict protections against discrimination for disabled students, and ensure full accessibility and accommodations for every student including fully funded and supported Individual Education Plans (IEPs).
  • Pass legislation providing clear protections to disabled and LGBTQ and gender nonconforming youth in schools and the juvenile legal system.
  • Pass legislation and school district policies mandating schools to provide support to pregnant and parenting students.
  • Establish participatory budgeting frameworks that allow for students, parents, and community members to determine how public funds will be used to support students’ academic, social, and emotional needs using preventative and transformative approaches to violence and conflict, harm reduction, and trauma-informed approaches.
  • Enact local policy that affirms the right of Black and all oppressed youth to organize to protest against state violence and to protect themselves from all forms of violence.

Targets: local prosecutors

  • Decline to prosecute youth under 23.
  • Decline to prosecute youth as adults.

Model Legislation



Organizations currently working on policy


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