U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government, Department of Justice.

Educational Resources, Racial Isolation and Adult Imprisonment Risk Among U.S. Birth Cohorts Since 1910, Final Report

NCJ Number
Date Published
July 2003
94 pages
Gary LaFree; Richard Arum
This study examined the effects of State-level educational policies on the likelihood of incarceration for African-Americans and Whites during the 20th century.
Prior research has demonstrated connections between a variety of educational variables and criminal behavior and criminal justice outcomes, including imprisonment. Educational variables have also been shown to affect outcomes such as occupational status and earnings, which in turn are likely to affect criminal propensity and contacts with the criminal justice system. This report reviews general connections between incarceration and educational experiences and then considers two major research questions. First, how are State-level educational resources related to individual imprisonment risk? And second, how is the proportion of White students in the States where Blacks are educated related to their subsequent individual-level imprisonment risk? Education affects the likelihood of individuals committing crime, which increases the risk of imprisonment. This research examines the possibility that school experiences can serve as defining moments in an individual’s life. It identifies the effects of several important State-level educational characteristics on the likelihood that individuals will be imprisoned as adults. Logistic regression with State-level fixed effects for both birth and residence State was used to calculate the likelihood of incarceration for adults who no longer reside in their birth State. The research used three waves of micro-level data on State prisoners and local jail inmates from the 1970, 1980, and 1990 U.S. censuses; Federal prisoners were excluded from the analysis. The data were broken down into two samples; sample A included all interstate migrants (individuals who report differing states of birth and residence), and sample B included only individuals who lived in their State of birth 5 years prior but resided during the census in a different State. The analysis looked at the relationship between educational resources and imprisonment risk, and the impact of racial isolation in schools on imprisonment risk. The results suggest that schools play a critical role in the subsequent life chances of individuals. The individual risk of imprisonment was strongly affected by the State-level characteristics of the schools where the individual was born and these effects followed individuals even when they changed States. In addition, States that spent more on education and provided more racially diverse schools reduced imprisonment risk in the aggregate; yet analysis of individual variables indicate mixed results. In the case of educational spending, schools with more resources actually widened the gap between educational winners and losers. Black students educated in State school systems that had higher proportions of Whites faced significantly lower incarceration risks after the 1960’s, while those born during the 1930’s, 1940’s, and 1950’s (the period of segregation) and attending schools with a higher proportion of Whites showed little or no reduction in imprisonment risk. While increasing school resources will help in reducing the overall number of individuals prone to incarceration, it also has the unintended consequence of creating a group of educational failures that while small in number are more “at risk” for criminal behavior and incarceration. Results indicate that while providing Black students with a higher proportion of White classmates appears to reduce imprisonment risk for those born in more recent birth cohorts, researchers need to carefully evaluate why African-Americans in racially isolated schools face higher imprisonment risks over time. References, tables, and figures

Date Created: December 10, 2003