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The school disciplinary landscape across the United States changed significantly through the enactment of policies that criminalize students’ behaviors during the 1990s and 2000s. Schools began to involve the police and criminal legal system in school disciplinary issues that used to be handled by school administrators. This shift led youth of Color1 to increasingly come into contact with the juvenile legal system through school suspensions, expulsions, and referrals to alternative schools—what we characterize as the school-toprison nexus.

Conceptualizing the school-to-prison pipeline as a nexus, or interlocking system of power over youth, allows us to understand how the criminalization of youth is a systemic problem that demands structural change and interventions across multiple levels of analysis and settings, including local schools, school districts, police departments, and state policies. Although important research has documented the ways that Black and Latino youth are referred to the juvenile legal system through punitive school policies, there has been less attention to the actions youth are taking to critique and dismantle these policies. Youth community organizing (YCO) against the school-to-prison nexus represents an arena of youth activism that deserves further attention and analysis. In this chapter, we define YCO as groups that create spaces for young people to think critically about their everyday social conditions, identify root causes of social problems, and build political power and voice to create policy solutions and change in their communities (Ginwright, Noguera, & Cammarota, 2006; Kirshner, 2015; Watts, Griffith, & Abdul- Adil, 1999).

Chapter of

Contemporary Youth Activism: Advancing Social Justice in the United States


Jerusha Conner
Sonia M. Rosen



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