High School Dropouts More Likely to Go to Prison


Of all of the males in federal and state prisons, 80 percent do not have a high school diploma. There is a direct correlation with a lack of high school education and incarceration. One in ten male dropouts between the ages of 16 to 24 are either in prison or in juvenile detention. Rather than spending tax dollars on incarcerating these dropouts, funding should be focused on encouraging these individuals to complete their high school education.

According to a report by The Hamilton Project, there is nearly a 70 percent chance that an African-American man without his high school diploma will be imprisoned by his mid-thirties.  There is a 16.6 percent unemployment rate for African-Americans without a high school diploma, showing that men in this demographic have about the same chance of being incarcerated than being employed.

“Institutionalized racism is a big factor in [high rates of] high school dropouts because a lot of high school dropouts are people of color, especially black men and women,” senior Camille Palmer said.

Juvenile incarceration decreases the likelihood of high school graduation by 13 percent. Additionally, those who are incarcerated as juveniles are 15 percent more likely to be incarcerated as adults for violent crimes, and 14 percent more likely to be incarcerated as adults for property crimes, a concept known as recidivism. The probability of incarceration increases with childhood experiences with the juvenile justice system, often times with minor crimes, such as property crimes. With such a corrupt juvenile justice system, it is evident that juvenile incarceration can have a long-lasting impact on a child’s future, as it ruins a child’s opportunity for any social interactions and development.

“Kids who get in trouble in school are generally kids who don’t wanna be there to begin with,” social studies teacher Mr. Troy Ruch said. “Once you remove them from the school environment, they fall behind and get discouraged, and it kinda creates this whole dilemma of how do you keep order and safety [at schools], but at the same time provide opportunities for all students.”

Socioeconomic status is a major factor that impacts high school graduation rates. Students from low-income families are 2.4 times more likely to drop out than middle-income students, and over 10 times more likely to drop out than high-income students. Moreover, 36 percent of students with learning or physical disabilities do not graduate high school. It is common for dropouts to have a history of being retained from advancing a grade level, relocating during high school, or having a general feeling of alienation with their peers at school.

“There is a higher chance of the people who dropout [of high school] to go to prison because they don’t have a high school education to get a higher paying job, so that results in deviant behavior,” senior Victoria Melton said. “Because they’re not a working member of society, they don’t know how to support themselves.”

The consequences of high rates of incarceration affect more than just the individual. Incarceration is extremely expensive for American taxpayers. In 2010, the United States spent more than $80 billion on correction expenditures at the federal, state, and local levels, which fund the supervision, confinement, and rehabilitation for adults and juveniles convicted of offenses against the law. To put that into perspective, in 1980 it cost $17 billion. When including expenditures for police protection and judicial and legal services, this cost increases to $261 billion.

According to a 2013 Alliance for Excellent Education report, the United States could save up to $18.5 billion in annual crime costs if the high school male graduation rate increased by five percent. Additionally, this increase in male high school graduation rate would result in a decrease in annual incidences of assault by 60,000, larceny by 30,000, motor vehicle theft by 31,000, and burglaries by 17,000.

“There is a lack of education that then leads to a lack of opportunities and unemployment,” Mr. Ruch said. “There is a correlation between people who don’t have support systems dropping out of high school which then can result in them becoming incarcerated.”

The national average for educating a student is $12,643, while the annual state average cost for housing an inmate is $28,323. If our nation put more efforts and funding towards education rather than incarceration, it would show a drastic change by increasing high school graduation rates, therefore decreasing rates of crime and costs of incarceration.

“Schools could lower their dropout rates by trying harder to inspire students to learn,” Palmer said, “especially in inner-city schools and schools with [fewer] opportunities for their students.”

Overall, reducing the rates of high school dropouts would not only benefit the individual, but benefit the nation as a whole, by decreasing taxes, creating more jobs, and boosting the economy. In this day and age, a high school diploma is absolutely essential to have a stable career and life; therefore, the education system should make efforts to encourage all students to complete their high school education, regardless of their circumstances. Schools must focus on providing education and opportunities, rather than unfairly reprimanding and discouraging students during their crucial stages of development and growth.