Do Failures in Justice or Education System Increase Incarceration Rates?

Michael Holzman, Senior Research Consultant, Schott Foundation for Public Education

Much of the literature on education and prison -- and "the school to prison pipeline" -- assumes a negative correlation between educational achievement and incarceration: the more highly educated a person, the less chance that he (it is usually he) will be incarcerated.

This belief is supported by data for male White, non-Latinos:

States with higher high school graduation rates for male White, non-Latino, students have lower incarceration rates for them.

However, the picture is not as clear with male Latinos:

The trend line for incarceration rates is nearly horizontal. In other words, high school graduation has virtually no effect on incarceration rates for male Latinos.

Further, the situation for male Black high school graduation and incarceration statistics is actually the reverse of that for male White Americans:

The trend line for incarceration rates actually rises with educational achievement.

As it is unlikely that the propensity for criminal behavior varies in this way, it may be that there is a propensity in states with relatively low Black populations for the criminal justice system itself to focus on Black, and to a lesser extent, Latino Americans that is stronger than the effects of education on those persons.

Sources: Graduation rates (2010) are from the Schott Foundation report on boys and public education, forthcoming. Incarceration rates (2005) are from the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

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