Prison vs. Education
America is ranked number one in the world in the amount of people they incarcerate. On average for every 100,000 U. S citizens there are 500 citizens incarcerated (Tsai). A high percentage of the inmates are illiterate and about seventy percent of them dropped out of high school (Tsai). The government continues to increase funding for prisons as their population grows and at the same time the funds for education decline. As one might see there is an underlying correlation between education and crime.
If the government would put less money into the prison system and more money in the public school system; crime and high school dropout rates would decrease. In Los Angeles, California resides the country’s highest prison population averaging out to more than 20,000 inmates. To compensate for the high incarceration the funds for their prisons increased a billion dollars more than education in 2010. In that same year Los Angeles Unified School District estimates about 640 million dollar loss from their previous year’s budget (Hawkins).
This is only spreading the burdens of the economy onto students making it harder for them to succeed. Cities in L. A. where schools have the lowest performing students exist in the highest incarceration rated neighborhoods. The schools with the highest performing schools have the lowest incarceration rates (Hawkins). Dr. Tracy Lachica Buenavista reveals that, “Research has found that access to education is a deterrent to incarceration and if they have an access to education, they are less likely to be incarcerated” (Hansook).
When budget cuts are made schools have to eliminate programs, resources, and teachers to compensate. They have to raise their class sizes which makes it harder for teachers to focus individually on students, further allowing more to slip through the cracks. Houston, Texas contains some of the nation’s highest dropout rates. Sharpstown High School in particular is known as the dropout factory. In 2012 of the 455 students that came in there freshmen year only 217 students managed to graduate on time. The majority of the students that attend come from low income families making it harder for them to stay in school.
Also a good portion of the kids at some point or another find themselves getting in trouble with the law which forces them to leave school as well. Serious changes needed to be made to the district so they created a program called Apollo 20. This program was designed to better meet the needs of students who were at risk of dropping out and to the consistently low test scores. They first replaced all the principals, assistant principals and they also made teachers reapply for their jobs. The school increase their time on task by adding an hour to their school day and adding two weeks to the school year.
Adding staff on strictly for at risk students to council them and meet their critical needs that they otherwise wouldn’t of had time for in previous years. They have a campus improvement coordinator that organizes and keeps track of the data of all the students so they are constantly aware of their academic status so no student falls behind. A high dosage of tutoring was put in place for every student as well. The money for this program unfortunately had to be raised by foundations and companies from the surrounding community since the government did not provide the funding in their budget (Koughan).
The dedication of the staff and the changes that were made all proved to be key in their success. The prison inmates typically have little to no education under their belt. Some at most have a high school education to show for. The average age for offenders is between their 20’s and 30’s which is right around the time they could be in college or graduating onto a career. The job opportunities for people who do not complete high school are slim with only minimum wage jobs or the military. This leaves many people to resort to illegal crimes as a way to make their money.
In 2008 the percentage of men in prison with less than a high school degree was at thirty-seven percent compared to the averaged five percent of men with more than a high school degree (Tsai). The average grade level for inmates is at a tenth grade level and most of them are likely to be illiterate. Without a degree that can lead to higher paying jobs the more likelihood of men ending up in prison is far greater for those that do. The funds for education overall are higher than prisons but every year these funds are dwindling while prison funds are increasing.
In cities like Philadelphia and Houston countless budget cuts are being made every year meanwhile new prisons are being built and budgets are growing. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger of California stated in his 2010 State of address that “Spending 45 percent more on prisons than universities is no way to proceed into the future. What does it say about any state that focuses more on prison uniforms than on caps and gowns? “(Adem). An estimated one billion dollars in education budget cuts were made in 2012 with 871 million dollar prison spending increase (Norton).
California spends about $47,000 on each inmate every year and spending only $9,000 per student. New York State spends about $56,000 per inmate and approximately $16,000 for each student in the school system (Prann). The cost per inmate increases with age because the state has to pay for their health care and as they get older the need for medical attention swells. Inmate’s state of health are already poor entering their sentence because most of them were heavily involved in alcohol or drugs. The sentences for inmates are very long and for a lot of inmate’s time is added on to their sentence.
So much of their life is spent in prison leaving all the expenses left up to the state further crippling education’s means of survival. Jimmy Santiago Baca is an advocate of education and spends a great deal of his time ministering youth the importance of staying in school. He spent the majority of his life going in and out of foster homes, juvenile halls and maximum security prisons until he was twenty-five years old. About a year before his release a mentor of his introduced him to poetry and transformed him completely. He went on to write poetry about his own life and was even able to have a lot of it published the year he was released.
After entering back into society Jimmy worked to earn his high school degree then went onto college. The world of reading and writing changed his whole perception on life triggering flash backs from his former life and seeing how being uneducated affected him. Being a former illiterate himself Jimmy believes that “The bad thing about not being able to read and write is that you are not a part of it, of life and when you do get the grasp of language and look back behind you, the horror of being manipulated and used by people who were supposed to love you is so overwhelming” (Rosario).
After years of speaking in juvenile halls he has found that illiteracy is becoming a common occurrence. Studies show that about eighty-five percent of youth that come in contact with the juvenile system are illiterate (Rosario). Without education Jimmy believes a life of crime is inevitable for young people which is why he has made it his life’s work to empower youth through reading and writing. He has gone to great lengths with his various foundations and workshops to provide opportunities for children to excel in their studies.
When inmates are released from prison many of them end up committing new crimes, and consequently bringing them right back to where they started, prison. The recidivism rate in the United States is at startling all time high at 67. 5 percent. To counter act this rising rate several states have been implementing educational programs into their prisons. Those that have done so like Indiana have seen recidivism rates lowered by forty-four percent compared to the inmates who haven’t taken any college courses (Stern).
Jimmy Baca found in one of his studies that there’s a sixteen percent chance of inmates returning to prison if they receive literacy help (Rosario). If the same person that came into prison is the same one who goes out, it’s obvious that they will most likely return to their old lifestyle. Allowing society’s outcast to earn a degree gives them a new found purpose to their life that will in return make their transition into the outside world that much easier. Along with these programs not only reducing recidivism rates it will also prove to be cost effective. The 2. 3 million in prison population is already astounding and those that return to prison on account of recommitting the same crime has a great deal to do with the rising population (Stern). At the University of California the Department of Policy Studies found in a study that when one million dollars is invested into incarceration it will prevent about 350 crimes. If that million is invested into educational programs it will double the amount of crimes they can prevent. The same study also included that for each re-incarceration that is prevented by prison education the state saves $20,000.
If one million is invested the states can stop 26 inmates of returning, producing a savings of about $600,000. The inmates who do not participate each one costs about 25,000 per year to incarcerate, adding up to about 1. 6 million for an overall cost (Stern). As one may see the smart investment would be in correctional education. More often than not lower performing schools are in low economic areas with high incarceration rates. This is why greater educational funds are crucial to helping children stay in school.
These funds provide resources, teachers and staff that are dedicated to making sure that every student not only graduates but receives a quality education. If education is made more accessible then it will lead young adults into higher paying jobs which will in return reduce crime rates. Without this much needed money the next generation is in jeopardy because schools not only educate, they prepare students for the future by showing them the right way to behave in society and imparting their life with structure.