By Dr. Tyra Seldon
Mass incarceration not only destroys the lives of adults, but according to a recent study, it creates a perilous future for young people who are incarcerated. The study examined 35,000 people from Chicago who had committed crimes as youth. Researchers, Anna Aizer of Brown University and Joseph Doyle, Jr. of MIT, compared two groups—youth who went to jail because of their crimes and those who did not.
The results were alarming. According to Zack Beauchamp (thinkprogress.org):
“After developing [a] random sampling technique, and controlling for confounding factors like race and sex, Aizer and Doyle compared the imprisoned and non-imprisoned kids along two lines: high school graduation rates and adult incarceration. Unsurprisingly, going to jail as a kid has “strong negative effects” on a child’s chance to get an education: youth that went to prison were 39 percentage points less likely to finish high school than other kids who from the same neighborhood. Even young offenders who weren’t imprisoned were better off; they were thirteen points more likely to finish high school than their incarcerated peers.
More surprisingly, given that prison is supposed to deter crime, going to jail also made kids more likely to offend again. Young offenders who were incarcerated were a staggering 67 percent more likely to be in jail (again) by the age of 25 than similar young offenders who didn’t go to prison. Moreover, a similar pattern held true for serious crimes. Aizer and Doyle found that incarcerated youth were more likely to commit “homicide, violent crime, property crime and drug crimes” than those that didn’t serve time.”
The idea that jail criminalizes some young people rings especially true in areas where alternatives to jail time, such as community service and peer courts, are sparse. Further complicating the problem is the fact that some youth are incarcerated for first time offenses, minor infractions and otherwise non-violent crimes.
When young people drop out of school and become a part of the criminal justice system, it adds greater fuel to the school-to-prison pipeline. They enter the criminal justice system as youth offenders and unfortunately, too many return to their communities as adult criminals.