At this point in US history, additional spending on incarceration probably isn't worth the crime fighting bang for the buck compared to other ways that money could be spent - particularly investments in education and mental health care. So I was interested to see a couple of headlines this week here and yon promoting early education policies that seem likely to reduce crime:
The other link is out of Iowa, where law enforcement is pushing early education spending on the grounds:
that high school dropouts are three and one half times more likely to be arrested and eight times more likely to be incarcerated. Nearly 70 percent of state prison inmates nationwide failed to earn a high school diploma, states the report. Officials said that if the male graduation rate increased by 10 percent in Iowa, it's estimated to save $88 million every year.I wrote recently about the United Way's "Common Good Forecaster," which posited a link between education levels and crime. According to the backup material (pdf) for that web tool:
Rigorous studies show a strong link between more education and reduced rates of violent crime (Lochner 2004). A one-year increase in the average level of schooling in a community is associated with almost a 30 percent decrease in the murder and assault rates (Lochner 2007), results which are particularly reliable through high school. Of course, one important reason is that more school generally brings higher wages and expanded job opportunities and thus less incentive to engage in criminal activities. However, wages and jobs are not the end of the story. Classrooms help instill values that oppose criminality and socialize students to become better citizens. In many cases, schooling may also teach patience, reduce tolerance for risk-taking, and provide a supervised environment that tempers negative interaction among young people. And finally, youth who leave school early risk being influenced by a more negative set of peers, while those who stay are more likely to build a constructive social network and set off on a path toward productive work experiences.Too often when we talk about crime fighting, the focus is solely on the cops and the courts. But factors like education can be equally critical. Indeed, there's a case to be made that, with prison populations bursting at the seams, the best way to chip away at crime isn't locking even more people up but helping more young kids have a better life.
RELATED: From the Denver Daily News, "Fewer prisoners = more graduates?"
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