Friday, February 18, 2011

Kentucky’s Moral, Economic and Civic Obligation

I recently read a very disturbing report. Incarceration and Social Inequity by Bruce Western and Becky Pettit was published in the summer 2010 Daedalus. Here are some interesting facts from the report.

· Incarceration rates are currently at eight times the historic average.
· Men make up 90 percent of those incarcerated.
· African-American males are seven times more likely than white males to be incarcerated.
· More than 70 percent of the prison population are high school dropouts.

Put in real numbers, for every 100 African-American males who enter high school, only about 50 will graduate, and about 25 will be incarcerated at some point. African-American males born into poverty have a 1 in 4 chance of being incarcerated and a 1 in 17 chance of getting a college degree. More than 10 million people are incarcerated every year locally, and over 700,000 are incarcerated at the state or federal level.

The impact on African-American families is that 1 in 10 have a parent in jail. We have the highest incarceration rate among industrialized countries, and Kentucky has one of the highest incarceration rates in the nation. In the United States, incarceration costs us more than $70 billion each year.

We have a moral obligation, an economic obligation and a civic obligation to do something about this. What can we do?

· We need more early childhood programs.
· We must improve alternative education options.
· We must improve our ability for early identification of at-risk children.
· Our poor communities should have access to more jobs programs.
· The dropout age must be raised.

We can invest now at about $10,000 per child, or we can pay much more later. The Transforming Education in Kentucky Task Force report that will be released next week will provide recommendations addressing many of the suggestions from the report mentioned in this blog.

Let's take resources from programs not working and focus on strategies that will work. Now is the time for bold leaders. Let's get to work making a difference.

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