West Virginia has one of the highest crime rates in the nation, but one thing could help lower it: a higher graduation rate from state high schools.
A recent study by the national policy group, Alliance for Excellent Education, found that if the graduation rate of West Virginia teenage males rose just five percent, West Virginia could save $100 million every year. Incarcerating an inmate costs $28,323 per year, while educating a student costs just $12,643. The study also found that this modest boost in graduation rate could benefit the state economy.
While dropping out of high school does not guarantee that a person will fall into criminal activity, that outcome becomes more likely. Across the nation, 56% of federal inmates, 67% of state prison inmates, and 69% of inmates in local jails never completed high school. Without a basic degree, their options for employment are much more limited, giving them more time and more desperation to commit crimes.
On the other hand, if the graduation rate among teenage males increased by just five percent nationally, there would be 60,000 fewer assaults each year, 37,000 fewer larcenies, 31,000 fewer thefts of motor vehicles, and 1,300 fewer murders. Former West Virginia Governor Bob Wise noted that the results showed the importance of investing in schools, including reforming learning procedures so that students remain engaged. That way, they can stay until graduation and be on a path toward a career.
It is a sensible solution to a problem that has plagued West Virginia for several years. Right now, West Virginia prisons and jails are among the most crowded in the nation. Part of this is due to the national tough-on-crime approach that states, including West Virginia, adopted until fairly recently. This approach included mandatory sentencing guidelines, where relatively minor crimes could result in prison time. As a result, prison overcrowding has led to more violence between inmates, and more inmates being housed in situations that were never meant to accommodate them, such as those serving out their sentences in local jails.
Fortunately, the state is looking to change these conditions, and this study is one helpful step. Among the options being considered are using treatment programs as a substitute for automatic incarceration if a person is caught possessing drugs. The results may end up being more beneficial than locking away someone convicted of drug possession, cutting him or her off from friends and family, and then providing no resources for that person upon release. Of course, the best thing would be if the person never got in trouble in the first place, which could be helped if he or she graduated from high school. Otherwise, anyone charged with a crime should find an experienced West Virginia criminal defense attorney right away.
The Wolfe Law Firm has been providing legal services for nearly 25 years. Located in Elkins, West Virginia, the firm provides services in the areas of personal injury, criminal defense, bankruptcy, and mediation. If you are looking for an experienced West Virginia attorney, contact us today.