Sunday, September 22, 2013

Who Would Choose Jail Over School? Us

We've had a spate of crimes in the area in the past week.

The McDonald's on High Street suffered an early Friday morning robbery in which one person was injured.

That same early Friday morning  the South Coventry Sunoco station at the intersection of routes 100 and 23, just a couple hundred yards from the entrance to Owen J. Roberts High School, was robbed at knifepoint.

The night before, the 7-Eleven convenience store in West Pottsgrove was robbed at gunpoint.

Then we've got the rocket scientist charged robbing the same National Penn Bank branch on High street, two blocks from his house, twice in the same month, and the robbery of the newly opened Gulf Station just down the street.

All of which got me thinking about crime and how to prevent it.

We spend a lot of time in America talking about how to punish crime, in the largely mistaken idea that severe punishment will scare people away from committing crimes.

The only real tangible result is that the Land of the Free incarcerates more of of its citizens per capita than any other country.

We jail 716 of every 100,000 Americans, according to the International Centre for Prison Studies.

(By the way China, you know, the land where no one is free? Not even in the top 100 of the list using the same rubric.)

Certainly, all this incarceration has not resulted in a drop in crime.

What we don't spend a lot of time, effort or money doing is preventing crime; any more than we do preventing disease. After all, when it works, prevention is invisible and we start wondering why we're spending money on it and the next thing you know you've got a government shut-down.

But then a report dropped out of the sky into my in-box and made a bad mood worse.

It turns out there is a way to save money on incarceration, add money to the economy and reduce crime all at the same time. And the worst part is we're already doing it -- kind of.

This miracle cure is called education.

The report is called "Saving Futures, Saving Dollars: The Impact of Education of Crime Reduction and Earnings" and is put out by the Alliance for Excellent Education. 

(I've uploaded the report onto a DocumentCloud account and you can read the full report by clicking here. It's only 12 pages).

Among the conclusions to be found within is an estimation that an increase in the national high school
graduation rate of just 5 percent would, through a combination of increased earnings and decreased spending on prisons, add $19.7 billion to the national economy.

How does education save money?

Consider, the nation spends, on average $12,643 per year to educate a student, according to the report.

By contrast, the average annual cost to maintain a prison inmate is more than twice that -- $28,323.

How does education make money?

Well, as it turns out, not only do high school graduates end up in jail at much lower rates than drop outs, they also earn more money in a lifetime.

So, according to the statistics put together in the study, increasing the graduation rate by 5 percent, would save taxpayers in Pennsylvania $737 million a year in crime-related savings.

Further, the additional earnings from an increased percentage of graduates would add $48 million a year to the state's wealth.

Combined, it adds up to a $785 million annual economic impact on Pennsylvania's economy.

This does not even take into account the sociological and quality of life benefits of a reduction in crime being combined with wealthier, better educated citizens.

So what would it take?

Well, a 5 percent increase is an achievable goal when you consider that nationally, about 78 percent of high school students graduate.

For African-Americans and Latinos, who bear a disproportionately large load of the incarceration rate, the high school graduation rate is even lower -- 66 and 69 percent respectively.

(As an aside, Pottstown High School's most recent graduation rate -- 2011/12 -- was about 84 percent and the year before was just shy of 90 percent. So much for perceptions of the Pottstown schools, despite the greater challenges they face.)

The report does note that the most benefit statistically results from improving the male graduation rate. It asserts a 10 percent increase in the male high school graduation rate would reduce murder and assault arrests by 20 percent; car theft by 13 percent and arson by 8 percent.

The report does not endorse any specific suggestions for improving graduation rates, recognizing that different methods work in different places.

However, it does offer successful examples of efforts in San Diego and New York City.

“The nation needs to focus dollars and efforts on reforming school climates to keep students engaged in ways that will lead them toward college and a career and away from crime and prison,” said Bob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education and former governor of West Virginia. “The school-to-prison pipeline starts and ends with schools.”

No doubt, we will ignore this, build more prisons and wonder why that's not working out.


  1. I am an addict of the series "the West Wing". In an episode, Sam Seaborn, the Presidents deputy communications director makes a comment about schools, " is the silver bullet. Education is everything. We don't need little changes, we need gigantic, monumental changes. Schools should be palaces. The competition for the best teachers should be fierce. They should be making six-figure salaries. Schools should be incredibly expensive for government and absolutely free of charge to its citizens, just like national defense. That's my position. I just haven't figured out how to do it yet." We do spend an insane amount of money on services that don't anything compared to education.

    1. Actually, I believe President Barlett makes that speech.

    2. But you're right, it is a good one.

  2. No, It was the discussion Sam had with Mallory, Leo's daughter who was a teacher. The episode Six meetings before lunch. Great discussion about school vouchers. Mallory, Leo's daughter and a grade school teacher, was discussing this topic.

  3. oops boy did I screw up that reply sorry.

  4. what an excellent article. Love the last line. Thanks for the props to PHS!!