Boys who drop out of school prior to high school graduation are more than three times more likely to be incarcerated than their peers who graduated. A whopping one in ten male high school dropouts (or one in four African American dropouts) is in jail or juvenile detention, as compared with one in 35 young male high school graduates (Dillon, 2009).
While it is oversimplistic to conclude that future criminal activity is directly and solely attributable to weak reading skills, or that every (or even most) student(s) who struggle with reading will wind up in jail, the link between literacy and criminal activity is indisputable. Poor academic performance – due to either instructional or socioeconomic factors, or specific learning disabilities – have been found to be among the greatest factors contributing to adolescents dropping out of school (Hammond, Linton, Smink, & Drew, 2007). In fact, many states are doing prison capacity planning based on 3rd grade illiteracy rates – long considered to be one of the greatest predictors of future criminal activity (The Imprisonment of America, 2010).
The link between illiteracy and criminal activity is also evidenced by the impact innovative prison-based academic programs are having on the future behavior of inmates. Inmates participating in literacy programs have been found to be significantly less likely return to criminal activity following their release. One major success story is the Point of the Mountain prison in Utah, where inmates are given the opportunity to attend a literacy program at the publicly run South Park Academy.
Dillon, S. (2009, October 8). Study Finds High Rate of Imprisonment Among Dropouts . Retrieved February 3, 2011, from The New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/09/education/09dropout.html?_r=3&scp=1&sq=dropout&st=cse
Hammond, C., Linton, D., Smink, J., & Drew, S. (2007). Dropout Risk Factors and Exemplary Programs. Retrieved February 3, 2011, from All About Adolescent Literacy: http://www.adlit.org/article/19774
The Imprisonment of America. (2010). Retrieved February 4, 2011, from Literacy Alert: http://www.literacyalert.org/
Utah Department of Corrections. (2010). Educational Opportunities: Utah State Prison. Retrieved February 1, 2011, from Inmate Programs — Rehabilitation, Education & Employment : http://corrections.utah.gov/programs/educational_opportunity.html
Wimmer, N. (2010, April 26). Illiteracy is strong indicator of future incarceration. Retrieved February 1, 2011, from KSL Newsradio: http://www.ksl.com/index.php?hl=7&sid=10544931