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Are high school drop-out rates among minorities indication of a future life of crime? Lochner and Moretti, (2003) assert that for every year of high school, individuals are significantly less likely to be incarcerated. Their research examined the relationship of mandatory attendance at different ages and school quality throughout the United States using census data, uniform crime reports and self-reporting data. The results suggest that for each additional year of education beginning at the ninth grade through grade twelve there was a negative correlation with a person’s susceptibility toward future incarceration. The authors further indicate that a 1% increase in the male graduation rate could result in a savings of 1.4 billion dollars. Findings also show that incarceration rates are substantially higher for blacks than for whites. Limitations of the Lochner and Moretti’s study include failure to account for poverty, failing school systems, and external social factors.
Curtis, Kaplan and Valdez (2007) argue that the higher the concentration of poverty, the higher levels of aggressive crime. Their research studied four poverty-related variables; percentage of high-school dropouts, unemployed males, households receiving welfare, and female-headed households. Of the four variables, two were significant in explaining variation in aggressive behavior; female-headed households receiving welfare and households receiving welfare.
Another limitation of Lochner’s study ,which included only whites and blacks was addressed by Ulmer, Harris and Steffensmeier (2012) who also included Hispanics. Ulmer et al. state that common explanations for high levels of violent crime focus on the effects of poverty and unemployment, educational inequality, residential segregation and social disorganization. However, They further assert that social isolation and resource deprivation create subcultural patterns that include violence (Ulmer et al. 2012). It makes a day in the life of those with structural disadvantages (such as poverty, unemployment, and family structure) become more accustomed to seeing violence and including it in their lives. Education during incarceration can curb this cycle by empowering the previously incarcerated to hold higher paying jobs and avoid the low opportunity costs of crime.
Maynard et al. concentrated on low income indicating high school dropouts were predominantly minority male with low income levels of less than twenty thousand dollars. By incorporating early interventions to reduce dropout rates, society can reduce dropout costs projected at $240,000 per person. In addition to Curtis et al., Maynard et al. survey individuals between the ages of 18 – 25 who have dropped out of high school. The survey attempts to assess if there is a connection to dropping out of high school with increased substance use, mental health and criminal behavior. It was not until recent years that direct measures of alcohol, drug use, and violent crime using large quantitative data sets have been available. The studies show that alcohol is consistently linked to aggressive and violent behavior. Aggressive crimes include extortion/threat, homicide, kidnapping, robbery, sex offenses (rape), assault, family offenses, obstruction of police, and disturbance of public peace (Curtis, Kaplan, & Valdez, 2007). Dropouts were less likely to be employed full or part-time and have a higher propensity to be arrested for criminal behavior. The study suggests cost-effective early interventions to address non-academic problems coupled with those implemented in the school setting, in order to improve general health of the population.
Limitations of Maynard et al. include the lack of contextual consideration and under reporting based on recollection and self-reporting. Terrell, Miller, Foster, and Watkins (2006) focus on contextual influence by suggesting that there is a connection between anger and alcohol consumption by black adolescents experiencing racial discrimination. The use of alcohol presents as a coping mechanism for anxiety, unacceptance, and anger brought on by racial discrimination. Black adolescents are the choice of focus because they are more likely to be exposed to racial discriminations than other adolescents belonging to other ethnic groups. (Terrell, Miller, Foster, Watkins, 2006). The study examined the relationship between anger induced by racial discrimination and alcohol dependence through three questionnaires. Questions were directed towards measuring the use and dependency on alcohol as a preferred form of expression as a way to manage emotional situations. The level of anger towards white’s for racial discrimination was also examined. Using the CAGE (cut down, annoyed, guilty, eye opener) screening, results did not reveal predictors of alcohol dependency for the age group. However, age and gender were found to be predictors of the number of drinks consumed. Male adolescents and older participants were shown to consume a higher number of drinks. Anger-induced by racial discrimination was also found to be a significant indicator of drinking behaviors. Those feeling higher levels of anger tend to drink more heavily than those who felt less angry. The findings would prove to support the claim that there is a relationship between alcohol use and anger induced by racial discrimination. However, the study is only reflective of a small portion of the black minority population. The study also, does not acknowledge whether the adolescents using alcohol as a form of coping are at a higher risk for dropping out of school and leading a life of crime. One may suggest an unhealthy use of alcohol may encourage reckless and careless behavior, particularly for those already suffering economical and social challenges. The hypothesis can be drawn that drinking induced by anger will lead to poor decision making such as dropping out of school or engaging in criminal behavior. We must inquire what the pre-indicators of criminal behavior are to understand their influence on crime.
When we think of crime we cannot help but revert back to one’s juvenile past. Two questions that comes to mind is did the individual complete high school, and is there a correlation between the dropout rates, low attendance and bad behavior? Doctors Freeman, Simonsen, McCoacn, Sugai, Lombardi and Horner all from the University of North Carolina, sampled 600-800 high schools across 37 states over a seven year period who have implemented a School-wide Positive Behavior Intervention and Supports (SWPBIS). The results indicate that those schools where the SWPBIS intervention was in place, saw a marginally statistical reduction in dropout rates. Though this article focuses on attendance and dropout rates showing that high absenteeism is a significant risk factor for dropping out (Freeman, et al., 2015), the author believes that low attendance resulting in dropping out and the bad behavior that associates from not being in school, has the potential to lead to criminal activity.
Education engages people in socialization, which may result in their desire for criminal activity to be deterred. However, criminal activities can also be learned or refined with education; which can present itself with white collar crimes. Education or job skill training is important from the aspect of lower wage rates and unemployment rates increase, crime also increases. Having an education offers opportunity for higher wages and one is less likely to be unemployed, which can reduce post-education criminal activity. This however may not be the case with white collar crime such as embezzlement, fraud and forgery where the reward for crime may be higher than the wages gained with education. The situation can be similar for youth. Those who finish high school are learning and socializing, many anticipating either college or working. In both situations, having a completed high school education then later, a college education, youth can anticipate higher wages, which can lower their probability to commit crimes. Empirical literature also shows a strong negative correlation between education and crime, showing lower crime rates among those have completed high school and those who have not; showing 7% lower rate of crime committed for financial gain. While previous studies have found no significant association between crime (after controlling several individual characteristics) and educational attainment, Lochner (2007) cautions these findings need to be interpreted with caution since this does not “necessarily imply education reduces crime”. Lochner & Moretti (2004) examined three data sources, including individual-level data from the U. S. Census Bureau, self-reported data on crime and incarceration from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, and state-level data from the Uniform Crime Reports on arrests; concluding that education significantly reduces criminal activity.
When considering education and recidivism, one would reason crime would be reduced by prisoners receiving education while incarcerated, much like education in the traditional manner. However, there are few empirical studies on this topic and there could be great difficulty in comparing prisoners who chose to enroll and those who chose not to enroll in prison education programs due to characteristic differences (Lochner, 2007). According to Steurer & Smith we must “consider recent research findings that show many prisoners can be rehabilitated through education”. Studies show that those who are incarcerated though not consistently defined, most educational programs’ evaluations showed lower recidivism rates. Education programs can reduce the likelihood of repeat offending and improve public safety for everyone (Steurer et al. 2003). Barbara Wade of Pennsylvania State University conducted a quantitative study that compared rates of recidivism between inmates who participated and those who did not participate in correctional education programs (Wade, 2007). The study also tracked ex-offenders for three years to examine recidivism longitudinally in mandatory and no mandatory educational programs. Despite the low recidivism rates among those who participated in education programs while incarcerated, many of those had already failed at education before becoming locked up. Furthermore, an issue Wade brings up in her study, is the lack of a consistent definition of recidivism. For example, an inmate could have been returned to prison for a minor technical violation, such as failing to remain employed, However, if the unemployment is due to a layoff, and the inmate is sent back to prison, should we consider this an example of recidivism (Wade, 2007)? Other studies on prison education and recidivism have been performed such as the 1997 Maryland, Minnesota, and Ohio by Steurer, Smith, and Tracy involving 3,600 men and women inmates released from prison showing that male and female offenders who participated in education programs inside prison saw a 29 percent recidivism rate and the 2002 study that surveyed research in Florida, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, Ohio, Texas, Utah and Virginia showing that educational programs cut recidivism from 49 percent down to 20 percent (Esperian, 2010). Despite the reduction in recidivism rates among inmates who participated in educational programs, some individuals such as murders, rapists, child molesters are either unwilling or unable to live and work as honest, hardworking citizens in the community. The good news is those who fall into this group are small and there is hope that the remainder can turn their lives around and lead successful law-abiding lifestyles (Esperian, 2010).
Esperian, J. H. (2010). The Effect of Prison Education Programs on Recidivism. The Journal of Correctional Education, 316-334.
Freeman, J., Horner, R., Lombardi, A., McCoach, B. D., Simionsen, B., & Sugai, G. (2015). An Analysis of the Relationship Between Implementation of School-wide Positive Behavior Interventions, and Supports and High School Dropout Rates. The High School Journal, 290-315.
Lochner, L. (2007). Education and crime. In P. Peterson, E. Baker & B. McGraw (Eds.), International encyclopedia of education (3rd ed.). Oxford, UK: Academic Press; Elsevier.
Lochner, L. & Moretti, E. (2004). The Effect of Education on Crime: Evidence from Prison Inmates, Arrests, and Self-Reports. American Economic Review 94(1), 155-189
Maynard, B. R., Salas-Wright, C. P., & Vaughn, M. G. (2014, July 17). High School Dropouts in Emerging Adulthood: Substance Use, Mental Health Problems, and Crime. Community Mental Health Journal, 51, 289-299. Retrieved July 11, 2016.
Steurer, S. J., Smith, L. G., & Correctional Education, A. (2003). Education Reduces Crime: Three-State Recidivism Study. Executive Summary.
Terrell, F., Miller, A., Foster, K., Watkins, E., (2006). Racial Discrimination-Induced Anger and Alcohol Use Among Black Adolescents. Criminal Justice Database. 41:163
Ulmer, J. T., Harris, C. T., & Steffensmeier, D. (2012). Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Structural Disadvantage and Crime: White, Black, and Hispanic Comparisons*. Social Science Quarterly (Wiley-Blackwell), 93(3), 799-819.
Wade, B. (2007). Studies of Correctional Educatiom Programs. Adult Basic Education and Literacy Journal, 27-31.
Are high school drop-out rates among minorities indication of a future life of crime? Lochner and Moretti, (2003) assert that for every year of high school, individuals are significantly less likely to be incarcerated.