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Texas Group Finds Correlation between Incarceration Rate and Academic Achievement

Texas Group Finds Correlation between Incarceration Rate and Academic Achievement

by Matt Clarke

Stand for Children – Dallas used data from the Justice Atlas of Sentencing and Correction to determine which ten Dallas zip codes had the largest number of prisoners in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ), and then compared it to information from the Texas Education Agency on college-ready graduation rates for the largest high schools in those zip codes. The results, released in 2013, showed a correlation between incarceration numbers and academic achievement.

Stand for Children discovered that, of the approximately 3,000 students in the relevant ninth grade cohort from the ten examined zip codes, 29% failed to graduate, 70% graduated, but were not deemed college-ready, and only 26—less than 1%were deemed college ready. Those same zip codes accounted for about 3,100 of the approximately 150,000 prisoners in TDCJ. Stand for Children then used those figures to postulate that the failure to adequately educate the children in those zip codes "is leading directly to higher incarceration rates," referring to this as the "School-to-Prison Pipeline."

Stand for Children then noted that it costs about $10,000 per year to educate children, but much more to incarcerate a state prisoner. At this point, Stand for Children apparently made a math error, stating that it costs $44, 000 per year to incarcerate a Texas prisoner. That figure is probably based on the over $6 billion budgeted for the approximately 150,000-prisoner state prison system. However, that is a biannual budget. Thus, the average annual cost of incarceration in a Texas state prison is about $22, 000. That is still over twice the cost of providing a child with an adequate education.

Stand for Children also notes that these zip codes represent economically depressed areas with high levels of poverty. Thus, the students from those areas "face many, many challenges not faced by students in more affluent regions of our city. Solely by virtue of their zip code, these kids start school already on an uneven footing at kindergarten, and it is virtually impossible for them to ever catch up." This is referred to as the "Cradle-to-Prison Pipeline." The ten zip codes are 75203, 75211, 75212, 75215, 75216, 75217, 75224, 75228, 75232 and 75241.

Aside from the math error, a weakness in the Stand for Children report is that it fails to correlate imprisonment rates with population to show that the ten zip codes had a higher-than-expected number of prisoners. In other words, if those ten zip codes are the zip codes with the highest population density in Dallas, it would be expected for them to account for the most state prisoners, regardless of academic achievement. Stand for Children also makes the obvious statement that, "When a child enters kindergarten with a vocabulary of 4,000 words, that child cannot compete with kids across town who have a vocabulary of 30,000 words at the same stage. So poverty undermines these kids before they even get started." However, the report does not give factual basis for a correlation between poverty and smaller vocabulary when starting kindergarten.

The report makes an argument against further school cutting cuts and even argues that the funding of schools should be uneven—with the greater resources going to the schools with the greater number of students in trouble. It is working with the state legislature to "help redefine the definition of ’equitable funding* under the law," a difficult idea to sell in a very conservative state.

Source: "Academic Achievement and Prison Incarceration Rates: Analyzing the School-to-Prison Pipeline,"


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