The Law and Social Psychology of Racial Disparities in School Discipline

  • Erik J. GirvanEmail author
Part of the Advances in Psychology and Law book series (APL, volume 4)


In the 1980s and 1990s, policy-makers who were concerned about gang activity and “super predator” youth adopted zero-tolerance policies and practices for students in the U.S. The resulting school-to-prison pipeline is a system of exclusionary discipline and law enforcement that increases contact with the juvenile justice system and ultimately incarceration, especially for Black students. The chapter facilitates psycho-legal research on the entrance to the school-to-prison pipeline—racial disproportionality in school discipline—by providing the background information necessary to understand the basic contours of the problem, the focus and limits of the laws that prohibit it, and the research into the primary social–psychological causes of those disparities. Following a basic description of the problem, the chapter introduces a conceptual framework connecting the types of discrimination prohibited by federal law to the primary social psychological factors that have been proposed as causes of racial disparities in school discipline: (a) Racial differences in student behaviors resulting from poverty, stress, identification with certain social groups, and culture; and (b) teacher and administrator decisions biased by the interactions between explicit or implicit attitudes and beliefs and discipline policies and practices. The chapter then reviews the results of major empirical research regarding the causes of those disparities and identifies which tend to have support, which do not, and where more work is needed.


Racial discrimination School discipline Education law Disparate impact Disparate treatment Stereotypes and attitudes Social identity Law and psychology 


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Law1221 University of OregonEugeneUSA

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