Sheriff emphasizes crime-education link

Posted Sept. 05, 2008, at 7:04 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 29, 2011, at 7:20 a.m.

MACHIAS, Maine — Students are headed back to school and the Washington County Sheriff’s Department wants people to know that quality education lowers the crime rate.

“The cold, hard truth is that high school dropouts are more likely to turn to crime,” Sheriff Donnie Smith said in prepared statement this week.

A recent report released by “Fight Crime: Invest in Kids” shows that high school drop-outs are 3½ times more likely than high school graduates to be arrested, and more than eight times more likely to be incarcerated. Nationwide, 68 percent of state prison inmates have not received a high school diploma. This also holds true in the Washington County Jail, Smith said.

“As a school resource officer, I saw the immediate effect of school dropouts. As your sheriff, I see the daily impact on jail population directly related to school dropouts,” he said.

The dropout crisis, Smith said, threatens the safety of all Mainers. Statewide, about two out of 10 high school students fail to graduate from high school on time.

“While staying in school even one year longer reduces the likelihood that a youngster will turn to crime, graduating from high school has a truly dramatic impact,” the sheriff said. “History has shown that as graduation rates go up, violent crimes decrease.”

A study by two prominent economists found that a 10 percent increase in graduation rates would reduce murder and assault rates by about 20 percent, preventing more than 20 murders and more than 900 aggravated assaults in Maine every five years, the sheriff went on to say.

Reducing the dropout rate saves not only lives, it also saves money, Smith said.

“If Maine could raise male graduation rates by 10 percent, the state would save approximately $29 million every year, including almost $6 million in reduced crime costs alone,” Smith noted.

Citing more statistics, Smith said that a long-term study at a preschool in Michigan revealed by age 27, at-risk 3- and 4-year-olds left out of the program were five times more likely to be chronic law breakers than similar children who attended the program.

“Children left out of another high-quality program in Chicago were 70 percent more likely to have been arrested for a violent crime by age 18, compared to those who participated,” the sheriff said.

As it stands, Smith said, many children eligible for these programs are not enrolled.

In Maine, 83 percent of 3-year-olds and 59 percent of 4-year-olds are not enrolled in state pre-kindergarten programs, Head Start or early childhood special education programs.

Maine and Washington County need to make greater investments in early education to prevent crime and violence before they happen and to save taxpayer dollars, Smith said.

“We have the means and motivation to prevent dropouts. We should commit to quality early childhood education so more kids end up in graduation gowns, not orange jumpsuits,” Smith said, referring to the color of jail-issued clothing.

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