Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Link Between Poverty, Truancy, and the Juvenile Justice System

       The links among poverty, school attendance rates, and delinquency are all intertwined and, when viewed as such, depict a terrifying truth. In America, over 16 million students live below the poverty line, creating a set of circumstances and problems that a large percentage of the population does not have to endure.[1] A reality for these children could be:
  • Parents working multiple jobs, sometimes unable to take their children to school        
  • Incarcerated parents
  • Children living in a group home
  • Children having to walk through a dangerous neighborhood to get to school
  • Pressures on children to work or engage in illicit activity in an effort to supplement family income
This list is not definitive; it merely scratches the surface of the problems faced by children who live in impoverished neighborhoods. As children fail to attend school for any one of the aforementioned reasons, their grades suffer.
The correlation between an individual’s success in school, more specifically his/her ability to read, and incarceration is alarming. A student not reading at a third grade level by the third grade is three to four times as likely not to graduate high school on time, and this figure actually increases to six times as likely not to graduate high school on time for students from low income families.[2] More importantly, a study conducted by Northwestern University determined high school dropouts are sixty three times more likely to be incarcerated than college graduates.[3] 
 These statistics should paint a picture of the importance of education, particularly elementary education. Currently, juvenile justice systems across the country have the overarching goal of rehabilitating youth offenders in an effort to reduce future encounters with the law. Interventions offered by the justice system include educational and vocational training programs, aimed at educating youth offenders so that they may receive the education and skills necessary to support themselves without living a delinquent life.
Maryland’s Department of Juvenile Services currently operates 7 juvenile detention centers across the state, dealing with individuals 18 and younger who enter the justice system.[4] Maryland could possibly reduce the number of youth involved in the juvenile justice system by proactively concentrating on elementary education. Providing child-care services before and after school would allow parents to work longer in an effort to support their families while allowing their children to attend school. Making routes to school safer by means of police enforcement or volunteers would encourage attendance and learning in elementary school. Proactive measures such as these could reduce the numbers of youth involved in the juvenile justice system.
[1] http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/26/opinion/to-keep-poor-kids-in-school-provide-social-services.html?_r=0
[2] http://www.aecf.org/resources/double-jeopardy/
[3] http://www.northeastern.edu/clms/wp-content/uploads/The_Consequences_of_Dropping_Out_of_High_School.pdf
[4] http://www.djs.maryland.gov/detention-facilities.asp


  1. This was an interesting read! I would venture to add that there is an alarming yet far too common link between all of these factors you mentioned and race. In many cases if we explore the youth that are battling truancy and delinquency we will find that some of these issues have settled themselves in just about every generation of that youth's family. This is not a coincidence. We can establish any number programs to deal with the issue but there will not be any sustainable results until society values every human being equally and we all begin to change are negative attitudes and perceptions about race. The links are troubling and disheartening and the issues go beyond the courts. The day that everyone recognizes the gruesome history of this nation, in regards to race relations, and the impact it has had on poverty, mis-education, joblessness, and countless other areas, is the day that someone can say our society is actively working towards equality for everyone. Until then we have this link between poverty, truancy, juvenile delinquency, and race.

  2. Good point and a very compelling topic. I believe that this concern is especially important when considering the percentage of low income families in Baltimore City combined with the history of underfunding of Baltimore City Public Schools by the State of Maryland. In fact, it was partially the effort of the Baltimore Algebra Project(BAP) along with other Peer to Peer(P2P) mentor groups that halted the construction of yet another juvenile jail not too long ago. The beauty of the Peer to Peer model is that it empowers the very children that are negatively impacted by underfunding. Many of these students have realized that the system is flawed in many respects and take it upon themselves to speak up not only for their benefit, but for the benefit of those that come after them. These middle school and high school students display an ability to persevere and to overcome that others would not need to show until 10 or 15 years later in life.

    Many inner-cities have child populations with a higher rate of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder(PTSD) than Iraq War Veterans. These children show their strength and courage on a daily basis. I just wish they did not have to.

  3. I absolutely agree with David's point about the correlation between literacy and incarceration. Imagine being in a high school classroom and being illiterate. I imagine this to be a humiliating experience that results in the student either a) detaching from school mentally (i.e. being the "class clown" so nobody notices your inability to comprehend the material) or b) detaching from the school physically by dropping out. And, of course, this plays into a student's self esteem. They are more likely to believe that they will not ever amount to anything significant, and consequently more likely to resort to drugs or other criminal activity.

    Creating an environment that reinforces students' self-esteem is critical in combatting these alarming statistics. Such an environment will encourage students to speak up if they are not understanding material, without fear of being called "stupid" or being laughed at or judged. Further, an environment where success is perceived positively is critical, as well. Some intelligent children may feel like they will also be ridiculed if they express interest in a subject or express high aspirations. Unfortunately, all of these factors contribute to these statistics of truancy, incarceration, and poverty.

  4. Great topic David. I am adding some information from the research I have done for the writing piece I am working on. Statistics reveal “82% of prisoners in America are high school dropouts.” Thus in turn, “costing state[s] billions in incarceration, lost productivity, and lost tax revenues.” While an estimated “10% increase in graduation rates [alone] would reduce murder and assault rates by 20%.” Schools, ultimately States, and the Federal Government, contribute to low academic achievement levels, truancy and drop out rates, despite individual and family constraints already placed on many low-income urban students. Teachers are placed in a difficult position when balancing the decision to reteach material or not, and often these decisions are guided by standardized testing measures that impact not only school funding but also a teacher’s annual evaluation, thus potential for a raise. This is only one of many contributory problems because many academic subjects build upon prior learning, forcing students to fall further behind. Yet blame is oftentimes placed on students and parents.

    Further elaborating that mandating “school funding [based on] attendance rates as a way of pressuring districts to undertake reforms,” but with less money. School budgets are estimated to be reduced “$30 a day, per absent student,” thus prohibiting motivation for change through issues of undefined terms, improper reporting, insufficient community awareness, and inadequate resources. California lost $1.4 billion in education funds resulting directly from State distribution calculations for federal funding being calculated based on student attendance. California reported having “600,000 truant students in [their] elementary schools alone, which roughly matches the number of inmates in [their] state prisons.” Whereas, shifting the way the issue is framed and solutions derived, focusing more on struggles of poverty, homelessness, mental illness, and substance abuse, and eliminating punitive programs will lead to positive changes in all the systems involved.

    1. Harris, supra note 3, at 7 in 62 UCLA L. REV. DISC. 42, (2014)
    2. 62 UCLA L. REV. DISC. 42, 53 (2014)
    3. (emphasis added) Kamala D. Harris, Attorney General, Inaugural Remarks 4, available at http://oag.ca.gov/system/files/attachments/press_releases/n2021_final_speech.pdf (last visited Dec. 11, 2013) in 62 UCLA L. REV. DISC. 42, 48 (2014).

  5. I completely agree with the solutions David suggested. Some of the issues he mentioned are so deeply ingrained in the traditions of these families that juveniles only imitate what they see in their family settings. At some point, the cycle must be broken. Changing the life of one child in a family structure has the potential to change the course of not only their future but future generations. I agree that stressing the importance of an education should begin at the grass-root level. This includes encouraging pre-education programs and emphasizing the benefits of graduating early on. I believe that elementary school would be a perfect starting place because children are young and impressionable. They imitate what they see.

    Rehabilitation is a great way to try to prevent recidivism of juveniles already in the criminal justice system but the community should work harder and implement such aforementioned programs so that children do not even have the opportunity to offend in the first place.


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