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Boosting the graduation rate of male high school students in Ohio by just 5 percent would save the state as much as $535 million annually in crime costs, according to a new report by the Alliance for Excellent Education.
Lower-levels of educational attainment are indirectly correlated with higher rates of arrest and incarceration, especially among males, the report said.
About 80 percent of inmates entering the Ohio correctional system do not have a GED credential or high school diploma, state officials said.
Investing more in education to help prevent students from dropping out would save taxpayers and states across the nation enormous sums in crime-related medical bills, loss of income and justice system expenses, the report said.
“Dropping out of school does not automatically result in a life of crime, but high school dropouts are far more likely than high school graduates to be arrested or incarcerated,” said Bob Wise, president of the Washington, D.C.,-based Alliance for Excellent Education.
Most people who drop out of high school are law-abiding citizens, but high school dropouts are more likely than their counterparts with high school diplomas or higher degrees to be arrested or incarcerated, according to the report, “Saving Futures, Saving Dollars: The Impact of Education on Crime Reduction and Earnings.”
People with higher levels of education on average earn more income through legitimate work, reducing the incentive to commit crime and risk incarceration, the report said.
High school dropouts in Ohio earn about $7,500 less than high school graduates and $27,000 less than college graduates, according to some estimates.
Students who remain engaged in their schoolwork are less likely to end up on the streets, and school may help develop values and skills that can prevent students from later engaging in criminal activities, the report said.
“The nation needs to focus dollars and efforts on reforming school climates to keep students engaged in ways that will lead them toward college and a career and away from crime and prison,” Wise said. “The school-to-prison pipeline starts and ends with schools.”
High school dropouts often have limited job opportunities, and people without economic opportunities sometimes turn to crime out of desperation, said Denise Justice, superintendent of the Ohio Central School System, which is the school district within the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction.
Struggle to ‘make ends meet’
High school dropouts face a brutal job market in which they must compete for low-skilled positions with workers who have high school and college degrees.
Last year, high school dropouts in Ohio were almost twice as likely to be unemployed as high school graduates, according to a Sept. 9 Dayton Daily News article.
“Without a high school diploma, you are probably not going to be able to get a job that you can make ends meet on,” Justice said. “I can work at McDonald’s for a pittance and not have enough to eat, or I can hook up with this guy and sell some drugs and be able to afford gold jewelry and a fancy car and have a place to live.”
Preventing students from dropping out requires early intervention and keeping students academically engaged, Justice said.
Some at-risk students benefit from alternative forms of learning, such as digital classrooms and work-based educational options, according to the report and experts.
Intervention is key, and often it must take place many years before students enter high school.
High-quality pre-kindergarten programs can help at-risk youth develop important reading and academic skills that can decrease the likelihood they will drop out of school later in life, said Cyndy Rees, state director of Fight Crime: Invest in Kids Ohio.
Children’s brains develop most rapidly between birth and age 6, and young children from low-income families or unstable backgrounds may not receive the stimulation, learning and interaction opportunities they need to succeed in school, she said.
“Kids today start kindergarten ready to learn, and kids who don’t have assets at home — such as the parent who is preparing them for school or access to quality pre-school programs — they are kind of behind,” she said. “After lacking early learning, it can be very difficult for a child to catch up.”
Ohio spends $1.9 billion annually housing, feeding and providing around-the-clock supervision for inmates, according to data released last year by Invest in Kids Ohio. In comparison, Ohio spends about $22 million on pre-kindergarten.
The Saving Futures, Saving Dollars report calls for increasing spending on education instead of the criminal justice system.
Housing U.S. inmates annually costs more than twice as much as educating K-12 students, the report said.
“If the nation made a comparable investment in effort and dollars in schools as it does in jails and prisons, the return would be decreased levels of criminal activity and incarceration as well as significant and life-changing impacts on the individual,” the report notes