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A Better Path for Youth: Can Investments in Youth Education and Opportunity Reduce Incarceration?

By Sullivan Anderson


In Illinois, much more money is required to imprison a juvenile than educate a teenager for a year. According to Chi Youth Justice Files, in Illinois, it costs nearly fifteen times more for a year of juvenile imprisonment than a year of schooling. "In 2013, Illinois paid about $90,000 per child to lock up a youth in juvenile prison for a year and only $6,119 per child to fund public K-12 education.”

Many South and West Side schools in Chicago are struggling with high dropout rates and this relates closely with an increased risk of incarceration. For high school dropouts, "Roughly 60 percent of this segment of society can expect to spend time in prison by age 34,” a 2012 study by University of Chicago sociologists noted. What can be done to better support schools and reduce the dropout rate?

Some may believe that prison for juveniles is the sole disciplinary action to correct crime, but often detention also inflames the problem at hand. It can be very difficult for youth to move forward after incarceration as two area experts who work with justice involved youth commented. "The problems youth endure have the possibility to overtake work the correction we attempt at our facility,” says Tina Cooper from West Side Health Authority. "We witness many youth that enter SER with hopes of attaining employment and/or a high school diploma, but many of them face countless barriers that it makes it feel almost impossible to achieve such a feat,” Adrean Vargas, Youth Program Manager at Central States SER, told On the Money. These valuable programs serve as critical resource to help youth who have been incarcerated, but this a huge challenge to overcome.

What can we do to help? This generation holds future national leaders, entrepreneurs, lawyers, teachers, journalists, and even corporate leaders. Go against the grain by participating in social activism, volunteering and supporting youth outcomes, in every neighborhood.


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