Prison Not Education Stops Crime

J. BOLTON MADDOX

January 05, 1992|By J. Bolton Maddox

Tuesday, Dec. 17, was an interesting day for news addicts. Three things happened:

1. The governor talked to us about the recession.

2. After the talk, state legislators commented on the governor's talk.

3. The Anne Arundel County Sun carried this headline: "Former convict charged with Ferndale assault."

I was intrigued not withthe governor's speech (which was excellent, in my opinion), but withthe comments of the five legislators and one county executive on theMaryland Public Television follow-up to the governor's talk.

A consistent theme throughout the comments was that education was sacred.Not only was education good for the economy, but tax money for schools is more important than tax money for prisons. One of the participants commented that it is "criminal" for the state to spend as much onprisons as on schools.

Implicit in this argument is that schools have some relation to crime -- that if we had better schools, we would have less crime. That simply is not true, has never been true and is unlikely to be true in the future. The fact that none of these political leaders attacked this myth is an indication of the lack of knowledge at the highest levels of government.

You can read the results of almost a century of research into crime in "Crime and Human Nature," by the nation's most respected criminologist, James Q. Wilson, and fellow scientist Richard Herrstein.

The research shows that public school has little or no effect on criminal behavior. In fact, it may have a negative affect by providing an atmosphere in which young violent males gather.

Wilson contends, and is confirmed by StantonSamenow in his classic work, "Inside the Criminal Mind," that the criminal personality is well formed by the time a young male is 8 yearsold. The only thing accomplished by keeping these criminals in school was to disrupt the education of the other students and keep teachers from teaching.

The only thing that works for criminals is jail. That is why the Ferndale incident is so connected to this discussion of schools and crime. The criminal went to school. He also went to school in prison. He was let out early partly because he went to school. He repeated the same vicious crimes against elderly women that he had gone to prison for.

Criminals commit crimes -- that's what theydo. Jail keeps them from committing crimes by locking them up.

There is no relation between school and crime.

We do need to make hard economic choices. Both education and crime directly affect the economy.

Texas had this problem in the 1980s. They stopped building prisons to fund other government services, like education, when the oil money started drying up. Criminals in prison went from serving 55 percent of their sentence to serving 15 percent. In 1980, no Texas city was on a list of the U.S. Top 20 for crime. By the end of the decade, Texas had 13 of the 20 top cities for worst in crime.

The crimeepidemic in Texas only deepened during the recession. I think it's criminal not to build the prison space we need to keep vicious criminals out of the malls and out of communities like Ferndale. Merely removing these criminal personalities from public school would go a long way to improving education in Maryland.

But what incenses me the most is that the legislative leadership is either ignorant of the facts known about schools and crime, or they know the facts and choose toblow smoke at the public for political gain.

At least the governor tried his best to "tell it like it is." Now maybe the legislature and county executives will do so.

J. Bolton Maddox, an Edgewater resident, is a former police chief and professor of criminal justice.

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