Academic journal article Economic Commentary (Cleveland)

Does School Quality Affect Juvenile Crime?

Academic journal article Economic Commentary (Cleveland)

Does School Quality Affect Juvenile Crime?

Article excerpt

Essays in Economics

The Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland sponsored an undergraduate essay competition, Essays in Economics, in 2001. Amy Pandjiris, then a senior at Oberlin College in Ohio, wrote the winning essay, which we reprint here.

Essays in Economics was created to promote economics education and to encourage students to apply economic reasoning to current policy issues. The competition was open to all Juniors and seniors enrolled in Fourth District colleges or universities.

This essay investigates whether students who attend higher-quality schools commit fever crimes. If so, improv ing school quality might be worth considering as an approach to reducing juvenile crime. The author finds some evidence that higher-quality schools are associated with lower probabilities of committing some types of crime.

According to a 1999 Gallup poll, Americans ranked crime as the most important problem facing the nation. In fact, in nearly every public opinion poll of the late 1990s, crime was ranked ahead of the environment, unemployment, and the deficit as the main problem facing the country today.

Certainly, the monetary costs of crime are significant. Using data from the National Crime Survey, Richard Freeman estimated that for all reported crimes in 1992, the average cost to victims was $532 per crime, totaling $17.6 billion, or 0.3 percent of U.S. GDP-- enough to run 1,200 New York City public schools, employ its 80,000 teachers, and educate over one million schoolchildren for a year and a half (Freeman 1996). Crime also forces societies to spend resources on crime prevention and control: money that could be invested in productive new businesses must be allocated instead for security alarms, prisons, and police officers. In 1995, the United States spent $48.6 billion on police protection, $39.8 billion on corrections, and $24.5 billion on court and legal activities (U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics). Crime also results in "lost" output to the economy as a whole because it entails the suboptimal use of potential resources: When criminals commit property crimes, instead of using resources to add to wealth, they use resources only to redistribute it. Yet despite the high costs of crime and people's growing concern over it, there is substantial uncertainty about how crime can be prevented.

A substantial amount of research has focused on determining why juveniles commit crimes. Roughly 17 percent of those arrested are under the age of 18 (Sourcebook of Criminal Justice Statistics Online 2000). While the overall crime rate has been falling over the past two decades, juvenile crime has risen to an unprecedented level. Total property crimes per 100 people, for example, fell 40 percent from 1980 to 2000, but juveniles were still committing roughly onefourth of them (see figure 1). From 1985 to 1992, the rate at which white males aged 14 through 17 committed murder increased nearly 50 percent, and for black males in the same age range, the rate increased 300 percent (Blumstein 1995). From 1994 to 1995, young people committed 7 million assaults, 3.6 million drug sales, 1.7 million robberies, 2 million burglaries, and 2 million thefts (Mocan and Rees 1999).

Not only does this level of juvenile crime impose large costs on society, it presages extensive future costs as well. Juveniles engaged in crime are not learning the skills that will enable them to generate wealth one day; rather, they are honing skills that enable them to redistribute wealth others have created. Illegal behavior as a juvenile may also increase the likelihood of committing crimes as an adult, and sociologists and psychologists agree that the most serious adult offenders are boys who began their criminal careers at a very early age. An individual's employment options may become more limited after committing a crime; studies have shown that past criminal involvement adversely impacts future employment opportunities (Bound and Freeman 1999; Freeman and Rodgers 1999). …

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