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The Relationship Between Education and Criminal Behavior

Published On: Oct 23 2013 06:56:53 PM AKDT   Updated On: Oct 24 2013 05:44:12 AM AKDT

Corey Allen-Young/Rick Schleyer


The debate over how much public money should be spent on education in Alaska extends well beyond the classroom.

A recent presentation by the University of Alaska Anchorage Justice Center points out a close correlation between investments in kids at an early age and the rate of incarceration.

"If we look at the population of people in prison, we compare them to the people who aren't in prison, we see really big differences in education levels," said Sharon Chamard, an associate professor at UAA. 

The better educated someone is, the less likely they are to end up in prison, Chamard said.

The Justice Center found that if Anchorage School District students attended one more year of school, that would translate to 250 fewer local arrests per year for aggravated assault and 110 fewer arrests for larceny. If ASD's graduation rate rose by 10 percent, there would be 170 fewer arrests annually for aggravated assault and 55 fewer arrests for larceny, according to the researchers.

"That doesn't mean that every high school dropout is going to prison, or that everyone that has a high school diploma is not going to go to prison," Chamard said. "But overall, those patterns are very, very clear."

The study also points to potential cost savings through investments in education.

Housing a prisoner costs $49,000, compared to approximately $15,000 to educate an ASD student.

"Do we think it's a better investment to put money in prisons, or do we think it's a better investment to put money into education?"Chamard said. 

Anchorage Police Department school resource officers said they have seen firsthand how schools can keep children away from crime. 

"When kids aren't in school, they are left unattended, they are off to do their own things, idle time, they get in trouble," said Lt. Tony Henry. 

Chamard says funding of Pre-K education programs is a key to lowering incarceration rates, because they would better prepare students for success in school.