Slipping Through the Cracks (by Guest Blogger Trixie Knight)

There is an undeniable link between educational inequity and the criminal justice system commonly referred to as “the pipeline”.  Kids in today’s American society that suffer from poverty and/or racial disparity are already born at a disadvantage when compared to their wealthier white peers.  When public school systems then fail to provide the basic necessities needed during an individual’s critical developmental years in order to have a promising future, due to poor funding, these children suffer further inequity and are often left uneducated, drop out of school, and inevitably become involved in the justice system.

Poor children of color typically suffer from inadequate health care and nutrition, various forms of abuse, and sometimes have horrendous home lives.  These kids then grow up lacking positive role-models or lack of activities to do outside of school and during the summer.  Students then feel disconnected with school and when they lack support outside of school, such as in their home-lives, they become more likely to drop out.  When people are poorly educated and lack resources to ensure a sustainable future they are more likely to commit crimes and become incarcerated.  As said in “America’s Cradle to Prison Pipeline”, a report of the Children’s Defense Fund (CDF), “The only thing our rich nation will guarantee every child is a jail or detention cell after s/he gets into trouble [and/or] fails in school”.  This is a horrendous truth that severely needs to be addressed and reevaluated.

The CDF reports that the annual cost per child for a full year of high quality education is $13,000 while the annual cost per person in jail is $22,650.  It costs about half the amount of money to educate a person rather than incarcerate them yet we continue to see so many schools in poverty stricken areas receiving less than the minimum resources needed to provide a basic education for our youth while we continue to see imprisonment rates rise.  The fact of the matter is that people do not get better in prison, preventative steps need to be taken before an individual becomes incarcerated rather than slapping an uneducated individual with a mandatory minimum sentence and letting them slip through the cracks.


5 thoughts on “Slipping Through the Cracks (by Guest Blogger Trixie Knight)

  1. Thank you Trixie for posting such a thorough and informative post. I think you have made an clear relation between education and incarceration of our young children in society, particularly among those who are from low income families and/or of minority groups. There are also many flaws in both our education and justice systems, where after many years are still not amended, such as gun issues. However, the bottom line is that, even if we dropped out of school, had a time growing up in a family, or decided that we are going to do something stupid, I think at some point we need to point the gun muzzle at our own selves, because we are simply not very good at correlating the responsibility from the consequences that incurred from our own actions. This may have something to do with the immaturity of the prefrontal cortex, the part of our brain that governs decision making, cognitive and social behavior, and critical thinking, etc., because it doesn’t develop fully until the age of 24. Ironically, we are sending many young soldiers to the front line, and what’s the outcome? Finally, there’s the conflict between the poor and the rich, and there are just too many social problems out there that need to be solved. I think ultimate harmony will come when time allows!

    • Wen, you make a very good point about how we all need to take responsibility for ourselves in the long run, no matter what hardships we have been through, and I definitely agree. However, the main problem with this when talking about kids in school is that they usually get into bad enough trouble before their brains are even developed enough to think about long term consequences, as you mentioned in your post. Most kids that are going through a hard time, all they are going to be thinking about is what they personally are going through and what is important to them in that moment to make them feel better despite their hardships. And for many of them, that does not include school. They do not look at the big picture and see school as a savior that can end their cycle of poverty and strife, instead it is merely yet another stressful thing to deal with in an already stressful life. I’m sure hind sight is 20/20 for almost every person who went to juvie once a few years has passed, but in the time being that doesn’t do any good as they end up missing more and more school and make things harder and harder on themselves. By the time they are mature enough to accept responsibility and take control of their lives, often it is already unfortunately too late.

  2. Trixie, So many of the issues that exist in education seem to be more or less the same in a few aspects. Firstly, it serves to further widen the gap of inequity for impoverished peoples and racial minorities – not only in their academic life, but in their adult lives as well. Secondly, these issues are well-researched, well-documented, and poorly acted upon. My question is: who’s really listening? We know that these problems exist. Teachers certainly know that these problems exist. Regular citizens know that these problems exist, even if they are not as well informed on the particulars of the issues. So why haven’t any real steps been taken towards changing these glaring problems? Are the bureaucracies really so strong that they prevent any real changes in the institutions of our country? Or is there some unknown force preventing these inequalities from being addressed? I know, it seems like, smells like, sounds like a conspiracy theory. I’m just groping for answers, really. I don’t understand why these problems haven’t gotten more attention when they seem so obvious to most of us. We know that poverty + lack of motivation/resources from school = incarceration and the continuation of poverty. It’s cyclical. So where do we alter the equation so that the cycle stops? I don’t think that there is really any wrong answer, I just want to see something happen!

  3. I really like the power of the point you made about how it is almost $10,000 cheaper to educate a child than have someone in jail for a year. When we fail to educate our children, it becomes a never ending cycle. Less children get educated, causing more to go to jail, causing there to be less state funding for schools because more is needed for jails, causing less children to get educated, etc. Also, once you go to jail even after being released it becomes much harder to be successful. You will have missed so much time that it is hard if not impossible to get back on track, not to mention having something on your record makes it even harder to get a job, and both of these tend to lead to people going in and out of jail many times because nothing changes when they are released. Being in jail causes them to lose time making money, growing as a person, learning, everything that leads to the betterment of our society, while instead increasing the negative parts of themselves from being surrounded by such people in jail as well as increasing the negative influences that cause them to commit crimes again. If we focus on school as a preventative measure and put more resources into it, it would probably end up costing less in the long run.

  4. You raise quite a few good points about the link between poverty and risk of being incarcerated. However, it’s not just poverty that increases the risk of minority children eventually being incarcerated. Even if minority children with come from good households with good role models, they face an increased chance of being incarcerated sometime in their lifetime. All anyone has to do is look at incarceration rates, and the percentage of minorities to whites in the US prison system, and you can see the difference in the rates.

    Minorities are more likely to be given prison time for something that whites could just be fined for. The US incarceration rate is also much higher than that of other countries. According to Wikipedia, in 2009 the US had an incarceration rate of 743 per 100,000 people, making in the highest rate in the world. In comparison, our nearest neighbor, Canada, had just 117 per 100,000 people. Part of the reason we have such a high rate of incarceration is the length of our prison stays (For example, an average burglary stay in the US is 16 months, versus 5 months in Canada). Another is our ‘War on Drugs’ which has also disproportionally affected minority populations. The Three Strikes Law also plays a big role in the number of people in prison, with people getting a mandatory 25 years for minor crimes after the 3rd offense.

    Of those people incarcerated, non-Hispanic blacks account for around 39%, which is much higher than the national population which is around 13% (statistics yanked from Wikipedia). And while the rates of children in poverty are much higher in minority groups, around 36% for both Hispanics and Blacks, than in Whites, 12%, when you are just talking about numbers, in thousands, White children have 5,002 living in poverty, Blacks have less children in poverty at 4,817, and Hispanics have the most with 6,110 (numbers are from the 2010 year, numbers yanked from The National Poverty Center).

    So if you were just following the numbers of children in poverty that should mean that Hispanics should have the highest percentage, than Whites, than Blacks. However, that is not the case. Among incarcerated men, Blacks have the highest at 841,000, Whites second at 693,800, and lastly Hispanics with 442,000 (numbers from Wikipedia 2009 numbers).

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