America’s Number One

The United States is number one! The youth are first in the United States. We rank 27 in math among developed countries. We rank 17 in reading among developed countries. Unfortunately, the United States’ youth are not number one in education. The youth in the United States are number one for incarceration. This rank of number one calls for no celebration in the United States. If anything, the discrepancy between education and incarceration only aids in pipelining students to prison.

The pipeline-to-prison or the policies and practices that push our nation’s schoolchildren, especially our most at-risk children, out of classrooms and into the juvenile and criminal justice systems cannot keep putting the nation’s youth in jeopardy.  This pipeline reflects the prioritization of incarceration over education. Instead of the high level of funding for individuals once in the justice system, funding should be reallocated to early education programs for these at-risk children.

Early education programs show substantial progress for further educational success. By targeting at-risk children and giving them a quality education, the future rate of youth incarceration will probably decrease, lessening the overall of future cost of detaining of the hundred thousands of youth.

On any given day, around 70,000 youth are detained in juvenile facilities. On average, the government spends around $88,000 to detain one youth in a juvenile facility per year. However, the government spends $11,153 to educate one youth per school year. The amount of funding a child receives for the entire length of elementary school is still less than the amount spent to detain a juvenile for a year. A restructuring of funding between the two must be implemented to adequately benefit both education and juvenile justice.

The difference between the funding per person is quite alarming because education levels tend to factor into youth crime. For example, nearly half of all students enter residential juvenile justice facilities with an academic achievement level that is below the grade equivalent for their age. Some juveniles are even admitted into a facility without being previously enrolled in a school at all. The National Evaluation and Technical Assistance Center estimates that more than twenty percent of youth are not enrolled in school at all upon entering a facility. These youth can be considered high school dropouts. The pipeline-to-prison notes that high school dropouts are highly susceptible for later incarceration.

While transferring funding into early education may reduce incarceration rates, some students will still slip through the cracks. However, these students still need education once incarcerated. Currently, the juvenile facilities that offer education services do not reap very positive academic results.

Only 48 percent of the juveniles thirteen to twenty years old in local facilities earned a high school course credit in 2014. The small number of incarcerated youth that receive a high school diploma rarely pursue higher education. Less than three percent of incarcerated youth even have the option of attending an institution of higher education. Higher education can be the key to escaping the pipeline to prison. The incarcerated youth need more guidance toward career and college success.

As the level of education has been repeatedly linked to public safety and recidivism, creating a quality, cost-effective education system in and out of juvenile facilities should be a priority. The pipeline to prison needs to be transformed to a pipeline to career and college success. A focus in promoting early and elementary education can be one step to make this transformation a reality.