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November 25, 2014

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Study bolsters argument linking graduation rates to cutting crime

Report says Nevada could save $215 million if male grad rate rises 5%

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Leila Navidi

The boy line up backstage during the Chaparral High School commencement ceremony at the Orleans Arena on Friday, June 15, 2012.

Nevada could save $215 million annually in crime-fighting costs if it could raise its male high school graduation rate by 5 percentage points, according to a new report released today.

The Alliance for Excellent Education, a Washington, D.C., education policy group, analyzed crime rates and graduation rates in 50 states and Washington, D.C., for its report, “Saving Futures, Saving Dollars: The Impact of Education on Crime Reduction and Earnings.”

Using existing research that links low educational attainment with higher incarceration rates, the alliance determined increasing the graduation rate for male pupils by 5 percentage points could save state and local governments across the country $19.5 billion annually on crime-fighting costs. (Researchers focused on male graduation rates, because the overwhelming majority of inmates are male.)

State and local governments spend more than $200 billion each year on criminal justice, including medical costs to victims, property damages and loss of wages and tax revenue. By increasing the graduation rate by 5 percentage points, governments could cut about 10 percent of the cost to fight crime.

The United States spends an average of $12,643 annually to educate a student, but spends more than double - $28,323 a year on average - to house an inmate, according to the report.

“If the nation made a comparable investment in effort and dollars in schools as it does in jails and prisons, the return would be decreased levels of criminal activity and incarceration, as well as significant and life-changing impacts on the individual,” the report said.

The report included a state-by-state breakdown of estimated annual crime savings, which ranged from $14 million in New Hampshire to $2.4 billion in California. Nevada - with $215 million in savings - was near the middle.

Nevada has the lowest graduation rate among states nationally, according to the federal government. The Silver State posted a 62 percent graduation rate during the 2010-’11 school year. Only Washington, D.C., and the Native American reservations were lower.

Although dropping out of high school does not automatically condemn dropouts to a life of crime, they are “far more likely than high school graduates to be arrested or incarcerated,” the report said. Studies have found dropouts are between three and 63 times more likely to end up in prison than graduates.

“Too often, high school dropouts wind up behind bars later in life and become caught in a cycle of recidivism that might have been avoided if they had graduated from high school,” the report said.

Improving the nation’s graduation rate is also a “civil rights imperative,” the report said.

Nationally, black and Hispanic students are less likely than their white and Asian peers to graduate from high school. Nevada graduated just 53 percent of its Hispanic students and 44 percent of its black students in the class of 2011.

That disparity has led to an overrepresentation of blacks and Hispanics in prison, the report said. Although blacks and Hispanics represent about 30 percent of the nation’s population, they made up over 60 percent of the nation’s prison population, according to the report.

The study took issue with high schools that have adopted a zero-tolerance approach to student discipline by suspending, expelling and therefore “criminalizing” misbehaving students. Students who are suspended or expelled are more likely to drop out and become incarcerated, the report said.

Such discipline policies affect minority students the most.

Nationally, African American students are twice as likely as their nonblack peers to be suspended. In Clark County, black students were found to be three times more likely to be suspended or expelled from school.

The report reaffirms the concept of the “school-to-prison pipeline,” a cycle where disadvantaged students drop out of low-performing schools, turn to a life of crime and end up behind bars.

“The nation needs to focus dollars and efforts on reforming school climates to keep students engaged in ways that will lead them toward college and a career, and away from crime and prison,” alliance president Bob Wise said in a statement. “The school-to-prison pipeline starts and ends with schools.”

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