Our country’s “lock them up” attitude has created a mass incarceration crisis which has pervaded all aspects of American society. It particularly seeks to destroy the lives of school-aged black and brown children. The reliance on law enforcement and strict laws is devastating to low-income communities.

Research shows that black and brown children receive unfair treatment and harsh punishments. These children’s interactions with law enforcement during their their K-12 years serves as a “school to prison pipeline.”

The factors that lead children to becoming trapped by the criminal justice system vary, but are mostly centered around how the child is raised, financial status, location, social class, and standardized testing, which pushes low performing students out. No doubt, these are all complicated issues, and we wrestle to find solutions for them, we do know of one concrete place we can focus on and bring positive change to: Americas education system.

With the racism, lack of classroom management training for educators, and school districts around the nation adopting a zero-tolerance policy, many schools are struggling. K-12 schools have overcrowded classrooms and a declining number of new educators signing up to teach in those classrooms. If you factor in the fact that the schools are no longer receiving funding for counseling, special education, and classroom resources, we know we are heading for ruin.

Those students who have violated the zero tolerance policies and find themselves interacting with police officers will end up in the juvenile justice system. States can spend up $7.1 million per day locking up youth in residential facilities and I argue we certainly could use that money to begin preventive measures to slow down the pipeline.

If we want to keep people out of the criminal justice system, it is important to identify risk factors early in life, such as mental health, poverty, and inadequate classroom management. Punishment does not prevent a future in crime. Prevention will.