Correctional Investments

On Dec 8, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced a Correctional Education Guidance Package aimed at helping states and local agencies strengthen the quality of education services provided to America’s estimated 60,000 young people in confinement every day (yes, 60,000.)  The guidance package builds on recommendations in the My Brother’s Keeper Task Force report released in May to “reform the juvenile and criminal justice systems to reduce unnecessary interactions for youth and to enforce the rights of incarcerated youth to a quality education.” It provides a roadmap that states and local agencies can use to improve the quality of educational services for confined youth.

It's heartening to hear Secretary Duncan express sentiments like, “Students in juvenile justice facilities need a world-class education and rigorous coursework to help them successfully transition out of facilities and back into the classroom or the workforce becoming productive members of society. Young people should not fall off-track for life just because they come into contact with the justice system," and to hear him and Attorney General Holder assert that high-quality correctional education is thus one of the most effective crime-prevention tools we have."

Amen and hallelujah.  My eyes well up when I read about the economics and outcomes of kids in prisons.  Though I've lamented the Prison Industrial Complex, I hadn't fully fathomed that the average cost to confine a juvenile is $88,000 per year, with 55% rearrested within 12 months of release.  According to the US Census, the national average cost to educate a child in school in 2012 was $10,608.  Yes, you did the math right—we pay over $77,000 more to imprison a child than to educate one.  It is hard to swallow that we spend over eight times more for a year in prison than a year in school and yield such dismal results.  Even the most robust out of school time programs' per-capita costs tend to be around $5000 per student (see last week's post on the Pathways to Education program in Toronto.)

Just think about how even a third of that money could be redeployed to develop and support (and evaluated) a robust array of interest-driven youth pathway programming integrating in- and out- of school opportunities, coupled with (paid) work-based learning opportunities that enable youth to level up from exposure to exploration to expertise with progressive levels of challenge.  What would it take to reorient our investment strategy in order to achieve better outcomes more cost-effectively and to simultaneously counteract the culture of mass incarceration?  This is a cornerstone challenge of our time, and I truly think we can make great strides towards realizing meaningful change in this vein through collective commitment to collective impact.  Onward in 2015!