Social Work

Date of Paper/Work


Degree Name

Master of Social Work (M.S.W.)

Type of Paper/Work

Clinical research paper


Jessica Toft


Zero tolerance policies in schools have had many negative impacts on students of color, including the "school to prison pipeline" where students of color are being funneled from schools into the criminal justice system. The purpose of this systematic literature review was to conduct an exhaustive compilation of research exploring interventions and alternative options to zero tolerance disciplinary policies in schools and to identify their impact on minority students given the extent of research that is available. Empirically based quantitative and qualitative studies based on program effectiveness were included as well as both peer-reviewed and grey literature. Terms for inclusion and exclusion are presented in this review. Fourteen studies met all inclusion criteria and were sorted into four categories using the public health model of prevention: primary, secondary and tertiary levels of prevention, as well as multi-level interventions. Primary level interventions had the most studies, followed by secondary interventions. Only one tertiary intervention was included. The findings indicated that the effectiveness of the interventions presented were inconsistent at each level and pointed out a significant need for more research at all levels of prevention. While zero tolerance discipline policies disproportionately affect minority students, limited research is available on the effects of alternative policies on these students. There is a need for additional research in the development, implementation and effectiveness of alternative programs including staff training and support, long term impacts and standardization among programs and policies.


zero tolerance, school discipline, school-to-prison pipeline

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.