Sunday, August 3, 2008

Police and Third Grade Reading Scores

"You can predict the number of prison inmates based on third grade reading scores." I've heard that statement from educators and reading specialists. It has been been published in The New York Times.

Police in the UK are even funding anger management lessons for children as young as 8. But surely states don't build prisons based on third grade reading scores alone.

I began to wonder what factors accurately reflect current prison populations. I wanted some actual data on prisons and school success. Is there really an historical precedent for low-performing students ending up in jail?

The short answer is yes. The long answer is yes, and...

Why Are So Many Americans in Prison?
by Glenn C. Loury opened my eyes to a wider problem. It goes something like this: socially disadvantaged -> poor school grades -> jail. This correlation goes way beyond a statistical anomaly.
Crime rates peaked in 1992 and have dropped sharply since. Even as crime rates fell, however, imprisonment rates remained high and continued their upward march.

The decreased crime rates are great news. But it represents a fundamental shift in the nature of our justice system towards more incarceration and longer jail time (i.e., punitive measures). The increased 'punitiveness' has come with some terrible, long-term consequences for society.

Take a look at some quotes:
• On average, state inmates have fewer than 11 years of schooling. They are also vastly disproportionately black and brown.

• Between 1980 and 2001, there was no real change in the chances of being arrested in response to a complaint: the rate was just under 50 percent. But the likelihood that an arrest would result in imprisonment more than doubled, from 13 to 28 percent.

• While three out of 200 young whites were incarcerated in 2000, the rate for young blacks was one in nine. A black male resident of the state of California is more likely to go to a state prison than a state college.

• Among black male high-school dropouts aged 20 to 40, a third were locked up on any given day in 2000

• nearly 60 percent of black male dropouts born between 1965 and 1969 were sent to prison on a felony conviction at least once before they reached the age of 35.

Glenn Loury makes an analytical argument that the white majority middle-class decided to create
a system of suffering, rooted in state violence, meted out at our request. We had choices and we decided to be more punitive. Our society—the society we have made—creates criminogenic conditions in our sprawling urban ghettos, and then acts out rituals of punishment against them as some awful form of human sacrifice.

And again,
a central reality of our time is the fact that there has opened a wide racial gap in the acquisition of cognitive skills, the extent of law-abidingness, the stability of family relations, the attachment to the work force, and the like. This disparity in human development is, as a historical matter, rooted in political, economic, social, and cultural factors peculiar to this society and reflective of its unlovely racial history: it is a societal, not communal or personal, achievement.

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