Cover Image

Larger ImageView Larger

The Prison School

Educational Inequality and School Discipline in the Age of Mass Incarceration

Lizbet Simmons (Author)

Available worldwide

Paperback, 216 pages
ISBN: 9780520281462
November 2016
$29.95, £24.00
Other Formats Available:
Public schools across the nation have turned to the criminal justice system as a gold standard of discipline. As public schools and offices of justice have become collaborators in punishment, rates of African American suspension and expulsion have soared, dropout rates have accelerated, and prison populations have exploded. Nowhere, perhaps, has the War on Crime been more influential in broadening racialized academic and socioeconomic disparity than in New Orleans, Louisiana, where in 2002 the criminal sheriff opened his own public school at the Orleans Parish Prison. “The Prison School,” as locals called it, enrolled low-income African American boys who had been removed from regular public schools because of nonviolent disciplinary offenses, such as tardiness and insubordination. By examining this school in the local and national context, Lizbet Simmons shows how young black males are in the liminal state of losing educational affiliation while being caught in the net of correctional control. In The Prison School, she asks how schools and prisons became so intertwined. What does this mean for students, communities, and a democratic society? And how do we unravel the ties that bind the racialized realities of school failure and mass incarceration?

1. Public Schools in a Punitive Era
2. The “At-Risk Youth Industry”
3. Undereducated and Overcriminalized in New Orleans
4. The Prison School


Lizbet Simmons is a sociologist living in Los Angeles.

"The Prison School is a disturbing and important book."—New York Journal of Books
"In closing, The Prison School disrupts what have become common sense understandings of the connection between schools and the criminal justice system by exposing both the push and pull factors that shape the daily experiences of many students of color. . . [the book] pushes the reader to confront and question the state of our schools, creating necessary space in which to imagine a world otherwise."—Crime, Media, Culture
"Simmons has produced a terrific book, one that is beautifully written, engaging, and offers a nice blend of data and literature. . . an important and accessible book that should be read by those concerned about the increasing criminalization of American schools."—Journal of Criminal Justice Education
"Simmons forges a chain link between mass incarceration, failed public education, racism and neoliberal ideology in the context of the War on Crime... gripping." —Times Literary Supplement
"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

Join UC Press

Members receive 20-40% discounts on book purchases. Find out more