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Reading Scores and Prison Planning




I wasn’t stunned to learn that prisons predict their populations on reading scores.


I've often read about the link between literacy rates and incarceration. This is something that must be changed because we need justice in our educational system.


The relationship between literacy and incarceration.


Politicians and journalists often claim prison planners use third-grade reading scores to predict the number of future prison beds needed. While it has been found this claim is mostly urban myth, there is in fact a strong connection between early low literacy skills and our country’s exploding incarceration rates. Compelling statistics underscore this connection:


  • 85 percent of all juveniles who interface with the juvenile court system are functionally low literate.

  • Juvenile incarceration reduces the probability of high school completion and increases the probability of incarceration later in life.

  • High school dropouts are 3.5 times more likely than high school graduates to be arrested in their lifetime.

  • High school dropouts are 63% more likely to be incarcerated than their peers with four-year college degrees.

  • Mississippi has the second-highest incarceration rate in the nation. The average adult inmate reads on a sixth-grade level when admitted. Half of the state’s inmates never finished high school.

When we know how to teach literacy better, and schools and school districts do not choose programs backed by scientific research, we hurt our whole society.


Heidi Nord