Scientists have a central role in addressing the challenges that face society. The primary purpose of research should be to inform policies and practices that address serious problems in our nation and world. Today in America, we have an alarming issue that is lacking in both basic and applied research—the “preschool to prison pipeline,” a now familiar phrase that describes the disturbing trend of setting children—disproportionately children of color—on a trajectory toward the criminal justice system through practices such as early expulsion and suspension.
Though there is a body of literature on the school to prison pipeline, including some research on the associated mental and behavioral health status of the caregivers and early education teachers expelling young children and the sometimes traumatic experiences of the child leading to certain behaviors, we need more and better research on the entry point during preschool. Why are expulsions and suspensions happening in early childhood settings with children as young as 2 years old? What are the long-term consequences for these children? And most important, how can they be prevented? We cannot address the preschool to prison pipeline if we ignore the earliest entry point. This paper addresses what is known and not yet known about early childhood expulsions and suspensions, specifically focusing on the disproportionate application of these exclusionary sanctions to our youngest children, and offers suggestions for future directions in research.