The United States leads the world in the number of people incarcerated in
federal and state correctional facilities. There are currently more than 2 million
people in American prisons and jails.1
Overall, individuals incarcerated in U.S.
prisons and jails report significantly lower levels of educational attainment than
do those in the general population. Research has shown a relationship between
high school graduation rates and crime rates, and a relationship between
educational attainment and the likelihood of incarceration. The impact of
policies related to education and public safety are concentrated among people of
color, who are less likely to have access to quality educational opportunities,
more likely to leave educational systems earlier, and more likely to be
This research brief summarizes recent findings on what is known about
educational attainment as it relates to crime trends and public safety. JPI has
compared state-level education data with crime rates and incarceration rates and
found that those states that have focused the most on education tend to have
lower violent crime rates and lower incarceration rates. While there is no silver
bullet that will guarantee reductions in criminal activity or crime rates, the
research suggests that increased investments in quality education can have a
positive public safety benefit. Significant findings include:
• Graduation rates were associated with positive public safety outcomes.
Researchers have found that a 5 percent increase in male high school
graduation rates would produce an annual savings of almost $5 billion in
• States that had higher levels of educational attainment also had crime
rates lower than the national average. Nine out of the 10 states with the
highest percentage of population who had attained a high school diploma or
above were found to have lower violent crime rates than the national
average, compared to just four of the 10 states with the lowest educational
attainment per population.
Sabol, William J., Todd D. Minton, and Paige M. Harrison. 2007. Prison and jail inmates at midyear 2006. Washington,
DC: Bureau of Justice Statistics.
Education and Public Safety
• States with higher college enrollment rates experienced lower violent crime rates than
states with lower college enrollment rates. Of the states with the 10 highest enrollment
rates, nine had violent crime rates below the national average. Of the states with the lowest
college enrollment rates, five had violent crime rates above the national average.
• States that made bigger investments in higher education saw better public safety
outcomes. Of the 10 states that saw the biggest increases in higher education expenditure,
eight saw violent crime rates decline, and five saw violent crime decline more than the
national average. Of the 10 states that saw the smallest change in higher education
expenditure, the violent crime rate rose in five states.
• The risk of incarceration, higher violent crime rates, and low educational attainment
are concentrated among communities of color, who are more likely to suffer from
barriers to educational opportunities. Disparities in educational opportunities contribute to
a situation in which communities of color experience less educational attainment than whites,
are more likely to be incarcerated, and more likely to face higher violent crime rates.
What is educational attainm.