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Police officers and metal detectors have become fixtures in American public schools. In this tough-on-crime, security-oriented era, the new gold standard for school discipline has become the criminal justice system. While harsh school punishment has reshaped schools and communities across the socioeconomic divide, nowhere is the overlap between classroom and prison more striking than at the Orleans Parish Prison, the site of a New Orleans public school enrolling primarily poor African American boys expelled under zero-tolerance policies for minor infractions such as tardiness, but not actual criminal behavior.
The Prison School examines how and why public schools take a punitive approach to education and analyzes how this criminalizing mode influences a student’s approach toward correctional custody. How did schools and prisons—two very different kinds of public institutions—become so intertwined, and what does this combination mean for students, communities, and, ultimately, a democratic society? How do we begin to unravel the ties that bind the racialized realities of mass school failure and mass incarceration? And what does this mean to segments of the population—in particular, African American males—who have been systematically removed from their schools and their society?
Lizbet Simmons is Visiting Scholar at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena.
"At a time of increasing public apprehension regarding the long reach of state violence into the lives of communities of color, Lizbet Simmons’ The Prison School offers us a revealing analysis of the interlocking trajectories of education and punishment. A compelling example of the engaged scholarship we need during this period, her work is a passionate plea to root out the punitive impulse, born of racism, at the heart of public education."—Angela Y. Davis, Distinguished Professor Emerita, History of Consciousness and Feminist Studies, University of California, Santa Cruz
"The Prison School provides a rigorous, radical critique of the now taken-for-granted notion of a 'school-to-prison pipeline.' Lizbet Simmons’s work is a pillar contribution to a widening stream of abolitionist scholarly work and research."—Dylan Rodríguez, author of Forced Passages: Imprisoned Radical Intellectuals and the U.S. Prison Regime
"Written with passion and clarity that is rare for an academic text, Simmons utilizes ethnographic detail to expose how the Prison School came into being and how it operated. For those who recognize the dangers posed by mass incarceration and who hold onto the hope that education can provide an alternative pathway for our most vulnerable youth, this book will be a wake-up call and hopefully a call to action."—Pedro A. Noguera, Distinguished Professor of Education, University of California, Los Angeles
"What began as a chance encounter on the streets of New Orleans became a remarkable sociological investigation of how a public school, ostensibly serving kids struggling in their community schools, came to be housed in a prison. Simmons offers a compelling narrative of what happens when public schooling and mass incarceration become fused in logics and practices. The Prison School opens a window into historical and contemporary forces that produce racial subjugation, exclusion, and state failure with devastating consequences for young African American men coming of age in New Orleans."—Mona Lynch, author of Hard Bargains: The Coercive Power of Drug Laws in Federal Court and Sunbelt Justice: Arizona and the Transformation of American Punishment