Can’t Read? Let’s Build You A Prison Cell!

A long time ago I had heard the comment thrown out that they look at illiteracy rates for third grades and build prison cells based on those numbers. It was an interesting correlation, but learning about the school system, and the struggle it is for kids to catch up, it isn’t surprising that they would look at those statistics. In school students spend up to third grade “Learning to Read” and after that they must “Read to Learn.” If your not on track and reading at third grade it is likely you will struggle for years to catch up, likely you will drop out, and likely you will get in trouble with the law.

I put up a series of quotes I found online a while back acknowledging this correlation and usage of reading rates to base prison cell projections on. That post has seen quite a few readers lately so I thought I would update things here with a video from one of my recent readers.
At about 4:30 into the video you have Dr. Russ Whitehurst, Director, Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education saying essentially the correlation is obviously there and the ‘need for jails.’

Here are some other quotes from around the net on the same subject.

From Investing in Literacy

Indiana’s former governor has stated that determining the number of new prisons to build is based, in part, on the number of second graders not reading at second-grade level.

From Dialects, Teaching Reading and Literacy to Dialect Speakers: Educational CyberPlayGround™

In California they plan how many jail cells they will build in the future by how many children are not reading on grade level by third grade.

From Democracy and Equity: CES’s Tenth Common Principle

“Based on this year’s fourth-grade reading scores,” observes Paul Schwartz, a Coalition principal in residence at the U. S. Department of Education, “California is already planning the number of new prison cells it will need in the next century.”

From Evidence Based Education Science and Learning to Read

David Boulton: We were interviewing Lesley Morrow, the Past-President of the International Reading Association, and she made a statement which flabbergasted me. She said this was a fact: that there are some states that determine how many prison cells to build based on reading scores.

Dr. Grover (Russ) Whitehurst: Yes. Again, the predictability of reading for life success is so strong, that if you look at the proportion of middle schoolers who are not at the basic level, who are really behind in reading, it is a very strong predictor of problems with the law and the need for jails down the line.

Literacy for societies, literacy for states, literacy for individuals is a powerful determinate of success. The opposite of success is failure and clearly, being in jail is a sign of failure.

People who don’t read well have trouble earning a living. It becomes attractive to, in some cases the only alternative in terms of gaining funds, to violate the law and steal, to do things that get you in trouble. Few options in some cases other than to pursue that life. Of course reading opens doors.

From ReadFresno:

Several states, including California, use reading achievement levels of students in the third grade as a basis for projecting the number of future prison beds needed.

I’m looking into more statistic as well, so if you have any please let me know. I’ll update this post as we find more. This needs some serious consideration and reflection. Any thoughts?

10 thoughts on “Can’t Read? Let’s Build You A Prison Cell!”

  1. Hello I am very interested in this topic and I am trying to do a research paper on it. I was wondering if you could give me any information that you have on it. I would really appreciate it. Thanks.

  2. I too am writing a graduate school paper on 3rd grade reading scores and building prisons in the future based on those projections. I am looking for creditable and reliable source information to develop and write my paper. Can anyone help me out? It would be greatly appreciated.

  3. Ariah-

    Don't want to go necro on you 🙂 But since you've had a recent comment:

    interesting Op-Ed on IQ. Not exactly the same, but I think the causation is similar: children who are given more chances to read/learn become smarter and read/learn more. Obviously, this requires schools to step it up, but I think the majority of the obligation lays with the family. The family issue also compounds on the link between reading and prison construction: not only is not being able to read well harmful in and of itself, but it also signals what is going on with the child's environment.

    I don't know how interested you still are in the topic… I obviously have access to a lot of research from the economic perspective that I could go through in my free time. Peace!

  4. Anybody have any solid documentation that any state really uses reading scores to plan prison beds?

  5. Just found this on the Children's Defense Fund, Cradle to Prison Pipeline report. It's from an interview with the senator:

    Mississippi State Senator Willie Simmons, who at the time represented Sunflower among other counties in the Delta, said that the state of Mississippi once used elementary school achievement scores to project future prison population. Simmons worked in corrections for 17 years and in 1992 was the deputy commissioner of Mississippi’s Department of Corrections. In that job, he said, he commissioned a study to project what the state’s prison population, then about 10,000, would be in 10 years.

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