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In a previous blog I discussed the relationship between dropping out and crime among juveniles. In this blog I noted that that compared to high school graduates dropouts earn lower wages, pay fewer taxes, are more likely to commit crimes, are less likely to be employed, are more likely to be on welfare, and are less healthy.” “” On my web site I expanded on this by exploring what the Children’s Defense Fund has called the prison pipeline or the connection between the enforcement of rules within the school system and imprisonment. Their study argues that millions of children face, from the day they are born, multiple high risk factors that lead, like a pipeline,” directly to prison and that it impacts most negatively minority children. 

Now we have a recent special issue of the journal Daedalus where the lead article is called Incarceration and Social Inequality” by Bruce Western and Becky Pettit. (Western is the author of a highly acclaimed book called Imprisonment and Inequality in America.) In this article the authors present some rather startling data on the connection between dropping out and the likelihood of ending up in prison. What they did was examine the chance of imprisonment for two birth cohorts, one that was born right after World War II (the so-called baby boomers”) and another that was born between the years 1975 and 1979. They calculated the cumulative chances of imprisonment” up to the age of 34. In other words, what is the likelihood that they would end up in prison (not just jail) someday? They compared blacks and whites and controlled for their education (college, high school graduate and high school dropout). Here’s what they found:· 

For all of those born between 1945 and 1949 the likelihood of ending up in prison was: Whites = 1.4%, Blacks = 10.4%, Latinos = 2.8%; for those who dropped out of high school: Whites = 3.8%, Blacks = 14.7%, Latinos = 4.1%; among those who graduated from high school (or GED): Whites = 1.5%, Blacks = 11.0%, Latinos = 2.9%; for those who attended college: Whites = 0.4%, Blacks = 5.3%, Latinos = 1.1%.

Now comes some dramatic differences:· For those born between 1975 and 1979 the chances of going to prison was as follows: whites = 5.4%, Blacks = 26.8%, Latinos = 12.2%; for those who dropped out of high school: Whites = 28.0%, Blacks = 68.0%, Latinos = 19.6%; among those who graduated from high school: Whites = 6.2%, Blacks = 21.4%, Latinos = 9.2%; for those who attended college: Whites = 1.2%, Blacks = 6.6%, Latinos = 3.4%.The authors of the study note that Prison has become a normal life event for African American men who have dropped out of high school.…For the first generations growing up in the post-civil rights era, the prison now looms as a significant institutional influence on life chances.“The authors discuss some other important findings, such as how this relates to the growing problem of inequality and also the problems women face as they try to cope with children whose father is in prison. I will explore this in a subsequent blog.