Monday, May 12, 2008

Dropouts and Crime: Dallas using GPS in pilot truancy program

I've never been a believer that GPS tracking systems are a serious alternative to incarceration in most cases, but for certain offenders they make a lot of sense. The New York Times this morning focuses on the use of GPS to combat juvenile truancy in Dallas, which might just be one of those areas where the technology is worth the bang for the buck ("To curb truancy, Dallas tries electronic monitoring," May 12).

That's because GPS doesn't restrict those wearing it, so it doesn't actually prevent crime. But it can provide metrics for authorities to check on the location of an offender to ensure they're where they're supposed to be, which is exactly what's needed in truancy cases. It's certainly a superior alternative for truants than juvenile detention!

It's nearly a truism that jails and prisons fill up when society's other institutions fail, and two of the biggest crime-generating failures IMO involve our indigent mental health systems and public schools. This blog has focused more in the past on the mental health system's contribution, but here during graduation season, it's worth considering in more depth the role public schools play in contributing to crime, or rather in failing to prepare kids to have and exercise better options.

The group America's Promise, founded by former Secretary of State Gen. Colin Powell, last month produced a public policy report on the high school dropout crisis (pdf) in America, and even though I knew things were bad, the numbers shocked me:

Powell's group says that one US kid drops out of high school every 26 seconds. A chart on page one analyzing high school graduation rates in the '03-'04 school year shows national graduation rates for all students are just 69.9%, but in the 50 largest cities kids graduated at only a 51.8% rate.

Some of this is skewed by race, but in the big picture tens of thousands of kids of all races are poorly served by public schools. Nationally black kids ranked the lowest, graduating at an abominably poor 53.3% rate, while white kids' graduation rate was a still anemic 76.2%.

Dallas ISD has the worst dropout rate in Texas among large cities, according to America's Promise, but all the big Texas cities fell far below the already-abysmal national average:
Dallas: 44.4%
Houston: 54.6%
San Antonio: 51.9%
Austin: 58.2%
Fort Worth: 55.5%
I'd concur with America's Promise that, "If three out of every 10 students in the nation failing to graduate is reason for concern, then the fact that just half of those educated in America’s largest cities are finishing high school truly raises cause for alarm." Even for those who graduate, there's a real question whether US high schools have adequately prepared them for the work force. But in the modern economy, what future awaits the masses of folks who never even complete high school?

Why does this matter for the criminal justice field? Most American kids who drop out of high school have two things in common: They have few marketable skills and have never learned how to work hard. Bottom line: That makes it a lot more likely they wind up selling drugs or burglarizing your house for a living instead of getting a job, paying taxes, etc..

A study produced in 2007 (see chart on p. 19 of the pdf) promoting school choice in Texas calculated that, "Although the chances that any one individual will be incarcerated are small, the probability is more than twice as high for a Texas high school dropout as it is for a Texas high school graduate."

Straight-up illiteracy is a key criminogenic factor. It's long been known, for example, that while dyslexics make up about 10% of students, they make up 30% or more of those in prison.

As far as reducing crime, an even more important subcategory are kids with incarcerated parents, who tend to be 6-8 times more likely than their peers to wind up incarcerated themselves. Making sure those kids stay in school and have real opportunities to succeed might be the single most important contribution society could make to reducing future crime.

Obviously, it should be said, most dropouts don't go on to commit crimes. My own belief is that it's not the diploma per se that makes the difference, but more often influences at home and whether the kid acquired basic reading and math skills before leaving school. (Beyond that, in my experience, for most people their most important learning is either autodidactic or happens on the job.)

It's not really a surprising assertion that illiteracy and ignorance reduce legitimate economic options, or that that uneducated youth are more likely to commit crimes, but when school districts in major Texas cities suffer dropout rates this horrendous, the raw math of the problem becomes overwhelming.


Anonymous said...

I suspect that the relative risk of admission to prison by level of education depends on where you live. I just compared data for Iowa prisoners using data from the Iowa workforce information network for comparison and the relative risk of admission to prison depends on age, gender, race/ethnicity and the level of educational attainment.

I think you need to identify children at risk as early as possible and use tested intervention strategies to keep them in school and provide them with marketable job skills.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Your second paragraph is dead on, JSN, I with I'd said it!

What did you find when you looked at the Iowa data? No Iowa cities made it into the 50 largest that the America's Promise study looked at.

kbp said...

Thanks Grits!!!

That was a well researched post FULL of information to share that relates to ALL throughout the nation.

When I saw:"...GPS doesn't restrict those wearing it", my first reaction is what comes after that practice is acceptable to all, tracking devices implanted at birth?

I agree that if the devices are the alternative to detention, it eliminates any rights violation, but I still worry about where it will take us or future generations.

While following the Duke case, which had many racial issues mixed in it, I ran across many crime and family studies that showed single parent families faced the largest percentage of children that would commit crimes within their life time.

It's rather ironic the FLDS is bringing up a problem of too many parents within the households!

I wish there was an easy answer for solving the single parent household problems.

Maybe we need to look back to what changes brought such a problem about.

Anyway, I need to compliment you again on this post.

It was well put together with great sourcing. I plan on sharing this with a few teachers and principals I know!

Three cheers for Grits!!!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for posting this report, Scott. I've been seeing this and worrying about this for some time now. I'm so glad to see that someone, apparently, is finally paying attention to what is happening.

Anonymous said...

For the unenlightened, additional uses of GPS: tracking sex offenders, in lieu of detention, house arrest, etc.


SB said...

DOJ studies state that children with someone in the system are 80% more likely to end up in the system.
Education is certainly the biggest factor. GPS may insure attendance but I doubt it will boost learning, pride, goals, determination.....
We know how to rip families apart but we know little about keeping them together. GPS would cause a lot of hostility.Cash incentives would be business arrangements. A monthly allowance for those who meet attendance goals may be a solution. Hey, during potty training years I learned the value of a single M&M.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Plato, tracking sex offenders is one where I actually don't think GPS is appropriate, for several reasons.

Most obviously, the vast majority of sex offenses happen in the home or with family or acquaintances, thus the offender can be where they're supposed to be and still commit the offense. Thus it creates a false sense of security with little real safety benefit.

I don't mind as much using GPS for truancy in lieu of incarceration, e.g., because the stakes are lower if something goes wrong - somebody misses school instead of somebody gets raped. But there are GPS companies out there selling there wares as a cure-all or a replacement for jail cells, and for actually dangerous offenders, IMO it's just not a good solution.

Also, as I know you're aware, GPS trackers also are a LOT more labor intensive to monitor and manage than most folks give them credit for, if they're actually part of a more comprehensive supervision program - another reason why IMO they're better used in lower stakes settings, house arrest, etc., where constant monitoring isn't necessary and periodic checks are sufficient. best,

Anonymous said...

In Iowa Hispanics and Blacks are on average much younger than Whites and there is no information about the age distribution of the workforce sample.
The following percentages are uncorrected for age distribution.

Workforce sample; No HS diploma (4%), GED or HS diploma 28% and post HS education 68%.

Hispanic prisoners of both genders. No HS (46%), GED or HS (50%) and post HS 4%

Black prisoners of both genders. No HS (30%), GED or HS (64%) and post HS (6%)

White prisoners of both genders. No HS (16%), GED or HS (72%) and post HS (12%).

In Iowa the probability of admission to prison for all persons older than 60 is near zero.

The male B/W prison admission ratios in the 22.5 and 42.5 (5 year wide) age ranges are 8.4 and 10.0.

The female B/W ratios are 5.4 and 7.8

The male H/W ratios are 2.1 and 1.0

The female H/W ratios are 0.9 and 0.6

The Hispanic female prison population is very small and older White female inmates are uncommon.

There are inmates older than 60 in Iowa prisons and I suspected they were serving Man. Min. or LWOP sentences and had entered at a younger age. I was able to confirm that was the case by looking at incarceration probability by age of admission.

I suspect the results of similar studies of Texas inmates will be different primarily because the age
distributions are likely to be different.

Hope this helps

John Neff

ms_saul said...

Hmmm, I'm all in favor of kids going to school, but I don't know that this is the way to go about it. GPS tracking devices, as you note, are expensive. Granted, less expensive than prison, but still expensive. If taxpayers are going to be laying out money, then shouldn't it be for serious offenses like sex offenses than _truancy_?

And what does it say about our schools that we have to use GPS tracking devices to make them go to school? I normally try not to stand on principle if I think the end is right, but in this, keeping kids in school through security measures does not seem right to me. What does that teach them? That they only need to obey the law when they're being forced? The problem of kids dropping out is not caused by truancy; rather, truancy is a symptom of the same underlying problems that cause drop-outs. Treating the truancy does not rid the problems that cause drop-out. So we track them until they're 16 and then they drop out.

If the schools deliver poor quality education, forcing them to be in the building will not instill a love of learning.

I just think that if we're going to invest in preventive measures, GPS tracking should not be the measure chosen.

(But I do think it's a good post - thanks!)

Gritsforbreakfast said...

I've got a lot of sympathy with the position you've laid out, lawschoolinmate, and I agree schools' flaws are more fundamental than can be solved through mere coercion for non-attendance. But I was making the argument in the context of local juvie systems that are already sending kids to juvenile detention for repeat truancies, and I certainly think GPS is better and cheaper than that option. I see the idea as ratcheting DOWN, instead of ratcheting up the coercive machinery of the state for this offense.

More subtly, I actually don't think GPS is appropriate for violent or sex offenders, for the reasons mentioned above, so I'm pleased to see GPS (perhaps more appropriately) utilized in an arena where the stakes are lower and the margin for error is greater, since IMO there's more error in the field surrounding this particular version of "technocorrections" than many proponents would prefer to admit.

And thanks to all for the kudos and good discussion.

Anonymous said...

"The penalty for truancy is expulsion". Unfortunately this is not a joke.

Our former police chief would stop on his way to work and pick up a habitual truant and take him to school. A police officer per habitual truant is a lot more expensive than GPS monitors.

OTOH I think the salespersons for real time GPS monitors are a lot better than their product. I think for a truant you don;t need a real time monitor and GPS tattletale monitors are inexpensive, compact and robust.

Anonymous said...

What's the remedy for them not going to school even with GPS on them? They don't care if you know where they are or not, they're still not going.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

rage, you'd be surprised for how many kids probation and minimalist monitoring are enough.

That said, if you're going to do this through the justice system (and there are good arguments for NOT doing so that I'll put aside for purposes of this response), the only possible answer is to create a system of progressive sanctions leading up to episodic incarceration. Using GPS before incarceration simply creates a new intermediate step, and I think more intermediate steps are needed, pre-incarceration for low-level, nonviolent offenses like truancy. Many juvie courts already use progressive sanctions for some offenses.

OTOH, schools are also to blame because they suck. They try to prepare kids for college, but most jobs need only a 9th grade education and a work ethic. Schools don't train kids to learn or think, they don't train them for the modern workforce, and they encourage an infantilized, dependent psychology at a time in life when youth should be learning responsibility and independence. I'm kind of with Paul Goodman and Ivan Illich on this one - at least for high schools which IMO are nearly as obsolete as the third year of law school.

Schools have to be relevant if we're going to expect (or mandate) kids to go there, and they're not right now.

Anonymous said...

I was talking about the truly hard core kids, I absolutely believe that a little nudge here and there will keep many of them in line. A good friend of mine is a principal at a large high school, and he's having some hard times with all of these issues right now. Most kids get their act together, others are just waiting to get thrown out. And with as little money as there is in the school systems these days, he's half inclined to let them stay gone.

Anonymous said...

You've got your dropout data upside down. The study you cite was quoting COMPLETION rates, not dropout rates.

Dallas has the lowest completion rate, not Austin, San Antonio, or Houston, and therefore, it has the highest dropout rate.

Bill Betzen said...

Well said anonymous. The numbers are upside down. These are graduation rates. Dallas actually only had 41% of the 9th grade enrollment from the class of 2008 receive a diploma! Look at the numbers at Our dropout/attrition rate is 59%! It is not a pretty picture! The good news is that our School Archive Project is lowering these same dropout rates over 25% with a project costing $2/student. Can we ignore that?