Monday, December 10, 2007

Early identification, treatment of dyslexics would reduce crime, boost economy

I've argued before that expanding emphasis in public schools on combating dyslexia would reduce crime. Now we can also argue that it would be good for the economy!

Dyslexics make up 10% of Texas children who are tested but 30% of Texas prison inmates, and illiteracy is a key indicator increasing the likelihood of imprisonment. Now new research indicates that in addition to overpopulating the criminal justice system, dyslexics also overpopulate another, more socially acceptable class of people: Entrepreneurs! Who'da thought? According to the New York Times ("Tracing business acumen to dyslexia," Dec. 6):

It has long been known that dyslexics are drawn to running their own businesses, where they can get around their weaknesses in reading and writing and play on their strengths. But a new study of entrepreneurs in the United States suggests that dyslexia is much more common among small-business owners than even the experts had thought.

The report, compiled by Julie Logan, a professor of entrepreneurship at the Cass Business School in London, found that more than a third of the entrepreneurs she had surveyed — 35 percent — identified themselves as dyslexic. The study also concluded that dyslexics were more likely than nondyslexics to delegate authority, to excel in oral communication and problem solving and were twice as likely to own two or more businesses.

“We found that dyslexics who succeed had overcome an awful lot in their lives by developing compensatory skills,” Professor Logan said in an interview. “If you tell your friends and acquaintances that you plan to start a business, you’ll hear over and over, ‘It won’t work. It can’t be done.’ But dyslexics are extraordinarily creative about maneuvering their way around problems.”

The study was based on a survey of 139 business owners in a wide range of fields across the United States. Professor Logan called the number who said they were dyslexic “staggering,” and said it was significantly higher than the 20 percent of British entrepreneurs who said they were dyslexic in a poll she conducted in 2001.

She attributed the greater share in the United States to earlier and more effective intervention by American schools to help dyslexic students deal with their learning problems. Approximately 10 percent of Americans are believed to have dyslexia, experts say.

One reason that dyslexics are drawn to entrepreneurship, Professor Logan said, is that strategies they have used since childhood to offset their weaknesses in written communication and organizational ability — identifying trustworthy people and handing over major responsibilities to them — can be applied to businesses.

“The willingness to delegate authority gives them a significant advantage over nondyslexic entrepreneurs, who tend to view their business as their baby and like to be in total control,” she said.

When I proposed a "Real Public Safety Agenda for Texas," prior to the 80th Texas Legislature, one of the principal new investments called for was to "Train 10,000 new teachers to perform individual training with dyslexic children, and increase funding for early testing for dyslexia."

I considered reducing crime a powerful enough incentive by itself to focus new resources toward treating dyslexia, but this new research finding that dyslexics who receive that extra support more frequently become creative, productive entrepreneurs means that the state is wasting valuable human capital, leaving extra, home-grown economic growth on the table by channeling dyslexics more commonly into prison than into creating small businesses.

Reading this new data, I couldn't help but think of a recent program I heard about at a Texas Public Policy Foundation forum in Austin a few weeks back, described thusly on their website:
November 07, 2007
Policy Primer: Jobs After Jail - Enhancing the Employment of Ex-Offenders (audio file)

Approximately 30 percent of Texas adults have a criminal conviction. Ex-offenders who are employed are three-times less likely to re-offend and much more likely to pay restitution and child support. However, one reason some are unemployed or underemployed are state regulations that can be used to exclude them from over 150 different licensed occupations. Also, hiring ex-offenders can expose an employer to civil liability, and there is a lack of vocational opportunities in state and local lockups that correspond to available jobs in the economy.

An impressive program described at that forum - the Prison Entrepreneurship Program (PEP) - trains inmates to become legitimate entrepreneurs when they leave prison. Several of their program's graduates so far have become significant success stories to tell.

I wonder what's the relationship if any of inmates with dyslexia and participation in PEP?

These are just initial thoughts from disparate research that perhaps raise more questions than answers. Would dyslexics who turn to crime be more likely to launch their own legitimate business enterprises if they received specialized education support, plus training that prepares them with entrepreneurial skills they'll likely need to cope with their disabilities throughout their lives? We can't know for sure from these data, but the possibilities are intriguing:

Dyslexics make up 10% of Texans, but 30% of prisoners and up to 35% of entrepreneurs! Whatever else these data say, they tell me that what happens with dyslexic kids has a profound impact on the future of both the criminal justice system and the economy. Perhaps Texas policymakers should begin to pay closer attention to them.


Anonymous said...

Good points!

I have a form of dyslexia, it is called dyscalculia and relates to numbers instead of letters and words. I've been able to work round it for most of my life, but even today I sometimes have difficulty counting past 25 or using the telephone or reading a train timetable. The numbers swim around just like words do for many dyslexics. What makes it more frustrating is that my language skills are above average so people have a hard time believing that my number work is so poor. My brother has dyslexia. There is also dyspraxia which effects the spacial awareness part of the brain.

None of those 3 should be seen as an excuse for bad behaviour, but they do all need to be recognised and addressed.

Anonymous said...

You don't need a big college degree to understand if people cannot work and earn a living they have no choice but to make you their next victim. Criminal offenders are set up to fail in Texas. Probation costs so much many of us decide to sit out the time in jail. How do you pay probation costs if you have no job? I think Travis County hopes you will sell crack for them if you are on probation. The Texas Legislature has made sure ex-offenders will fail in Texas by the laws they have passed. Look at the poor bastards they fired from TYC even though some had worked there for years. I understand none of them were ever connected to the sex with the inmates. The hard ass attitude in Texas against ex- offenders could get you killed all you self righteous, never done nothing wrong folks. I wonder how many of the legislature members have committed a crime by taking money for voting on things. The person you force to steal or rob may end up hurting your kin folks cause you don’t want him to get a good job. Instead of looking at other people take a good look at yourself and see if you are part of the problem home boy. I know you are going to talk crap about me so I hope you are the next hit on my list.

honolulu city lights said...

I have twenty-five years of mostly anecdotal observations as a criminal defense attorney that at least 2/3rds of inmates also have ADHD. ADHD and dyslexia and other learning disabilities are co-morbid at least 50% of the time. That is, if you've got one, it's likely you've got the other. I've got a 16 year old boy with ADHD/dyslexia and am attuned to it in my clients, and these days am having some of them tested as sentencing mitigation and to present a decent plan to the judge.

A lot of these guys would not be inmates if they'd been able to finish high school. People with ADHD are almost always in trouble with somebody -- teacher, parent, coach, cop. They have a hard time making it through school and doing right by a job.

I agree we need early and lots of intervention for learning disabled. I'm thinkin' specialized magnet schools for ADHD/dyslexic/learning disabled children where classes are very small and the teachers are all trained to deal with such children.

The trick is to identify the problem early, as too often these children are written off as difficult trouble-makers, when all they need is an educational intervention. When the problems are identified then the children should be educated according to their gifts/disabilities. We don't need all these people to be inmates and most all of them want to be somebody their families can be proud of.

In short, Grits, good idea.