Education as a Crime Prevention Strategy

Crime Prevention Through Education 

As society evolves, the work world becomes more complex and demanding.  The ability of high school dropouts to find meaningful work is diminishing. 

A recent study in the United States suggests that a significant percentage of high school dropouts are turning their backs on the American dream and are turning instead to crime.

The study conducted by the Center for Labour Studies at Northeastern University yields some sobering data.  The number of male high school dropouts in jail or juvenile detention at any given time is one in 10.  This compares to one in 35 for males who graduated high school.  The rate was even higher for young black men (1:4).

The study suggested a direct link between lack of education and the inability to find employment, and between unemployment rates and crime. 

The collective social cost of unemployment and crime is staggering in terms of economic loss and the related cost of social services and incarceration.  In the United States, the per person added cost for each high school dropout is between $200,000 and $290,000. 

The numbers in Canada may vary from the United States but the trend is no doubt similar:  lack of education equates to lack of conventional, non-criminal economic opportunity.  Although the Northeastern study did not generate the same data for young women, it did track teen pregnancy rates and found that female high school dropouts  are nine times more likely to become single mothers than young women who went on to complete college. 

The implications are clear:  keeping young men and women in high school is positive at the personal, social as well as the economic level. 

In the United States the incarceration rate for young black men is disproportionately high.  In Canada and particularly in Manitoba the incarceration rate for young Aboriginal men is also disproportionately high.  Like the high school completion rate for young black men in the United States, the high school completion rate for young Aboriginal men in Canada is substantially lower than for non Aboriginal men. 

Perhaps we need to seriously  look at education as a crime prevention strategy.  Crime prevention approaches in Canada and the United States in the past 30 years have concentrated on target hardening techniques.  Such approaches which include better locks on windows and doors, marking personal property for identification and the installation of home and business alarms are positive.  However, in an economic sense they only address the supply side of the equation.  Target hardening reduces the number of easy targets (supply) but does nothing to address the demand side of the equation.  As a matter of fact, target hardening alone may simply encourage innovation and closer working relationships between individual criminals.  Young criminals may start working collectively in groups (perhaps gangs) to increase their chances of success and reduce the possibility of being apprehended.  

Perhaps it is time for all three levels of government to view high school graduation and education in general from a crime prevention perspective and address the demand side of the equation.  Education leads to employment and the ability to participate in society.  Education creates a sense of well-being and individual freedom and independence.  Education creates opportunities for young people and diminishes the relative attractiveness of crime.