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  The Herman Trend Alert

February 21, 2007

Prison Populations and High School Graduation

A recent study by the Pew Charitable Trusts, a philanthropic organization that funds research, forecasts rises in prison populations in most of the United States. The average of all of the states is a 13 percent increase, though some states are expecting no growth and others up 41 percent (Montana).

Among other factors, the study focuses on increasing costs. The projected increase in costs over the next five years is an astounding USD $27.5 billion. That figure represents nearly half of the current annual amount spent to support the prison populations. Thus Pew projects a whopping 50 percent increase in costs!

Another interesting feature is the gender of the increasing inmate populations. Women inmate populations will increase faster, than their male counterparts: 16 percent versus 13 percent growth. As we encourage gender equity, we may expect the number of women involved in the criminal justice system to grow as well.

Different states are challenged with different issues: in Montana, methamphetamine-related cases represent at least half of all prison admissions; in Louisiana, violent crime levels have remained the same, though the population has decreased by 50 percent.

We wondered about the relationship between high school dropout rates and crime rates, because we know that young people who drop out of high school are much more likely to end up in the criminal justice system than their peers who stay in school. The results were surprising.

Montana, the state with the highest increase in prison populations (41 percent) had an impressive graduation rate in during the years 1999 to 2001----92.4 percent of its 18 to 24 year-olds were “high school completers.” Arizona with its second largest increase of any of the states, came in at 77.6 percent completion, one of the lowest.

While the Pew study defines a huge problem, we would like to suggest some solutions, beginning with greater funding for workforce development. We believe that funding training programs for high school students and prisoners is a much better investment than building more prisons. It creates a positive outcome for society the recipients of this training and their ultimate employers.


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