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From Tom Johnson, President of Council on Crime and Justice:

Invest in Education (For Your Own Safety)

 

             “If the State isn’t going to invest in education, then it better well invest in prisons.”

This recent comment from a board member of the Council on Crime and Justice was made in reaction to the $85 million proposal for new prison cell construction in Minnesota. 

            The statement is more than wry, it is factually accurate.  Research shows that quality education is the most effective form of crime prevention.  So, if you are not inclined to invest in education for the collective benefits to society, then do it for your own safety.

            Education makes a dramatic difference when it comes to public safety.   The Council on Crime and Justice compared the high school graduation rate to the crime rate in each of the fifty states.  The finding was astonishing.  The ten states with the lowest graduation rates had a violent crime rate that was, on average, twice that for the ten states with the highest graduation rates.  No other socio-economic factor registered such a positive correlation.  Want to be safe?  Keep a kid in school.

            Kids who don’t finish school are more likely to wind up in prison.  Nationally, only 51 percent of prisoners have completed high school or its equivalent, compared with 76 percent of the general population.  The National Institute for Literacy reports that seventy percent of prisoners scored in the two lowest literacy levels.   While inmates at this level may have some reading and writing skills, they are unlikely to be able, once released, to understand a bus schedule or a map, write a letter or catch an error on their utility bill. Yet, they are expected to find a job, pay taxes, care for their family and live law-abiding lives.

            You might be asking:  Well, what about the Achievement Gap?  Don’t minority students have a much higher drop-out rate?  And, wouldn’t this mean that minorities would be more likely to wind up in prison?  Yes, it does.  In Minnesota, with graduation rates for African American students hovering in the mid-thirty percent range for urban public schools, African American males are imprisoned at a rate roughly twenty times higher than whites; one of the highest disparities in the nation.  The Justice Policy Institute recently reported that 52% of black male high school drop-outs have prison records by their early thirties (as compared to 10% of the white male drop-outs).  Additionally, African American men in their early thirties are nearly twice as likely to have prison records (22%) than Bachelor degrees (12%).

            It is never too late for education to positively effect public safety.  Numerous studies show the benefit of educating inmates while they are in prison.  Once released, inmates who have completed an academic program in prison are much less likely to re-offend by burglarizing your garage, stealing your purse or shoplifting from your business.  A study in the state of Virginia, found that only 19.1% of the releasees who had completed a prison academic program were re-incarcerated compared to 49.1% for those who had no educational programming.

            This is no reason to wait.  Educating inmates makes sense.  But delaying education until prison may mean that you will be the victim that puts the (under-educated) criminal behind bars.   And, it will certainly mean that you will pay your share of Minnesota’s increasing prison costs, now at $35,000 per prisoner per year.  Discouragingly, this cost figure includes only nominal educational programming.

            It’s not rocket science.  You can decide to invest now in education, or you can pay more later.  But know that a significant part of the increased price will be a heightened and well-founded concern for your personal safety.

 

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