News, schools, and views from a uniquely Lowell perspective
25th June 2008

Some painful realities

posted in Education, Local Groups, National issues, Youth |

I almost didn’t attend the June meeting of the Non Profit Alliance of Greater Lowell, but I’m glad I did as the presenters brought some disturbing facts to light concerning Lowell’s high school dropout rate and the prison situation in Massachusetts.   These are not new issues, nor are they unrelated. Just think about where many high school dropouts are heading when they disappear off the radar of the school system. Victoria Fahlberg, the Executive Director of OneLowell, the highly-effective, yet woefully underfunded agency that works with Lowell’s highly-truant students in the middle schools and at the high school, tackles this problem every day. The statistics that she presented were startling:  Lowell’s graduation completion rate is 70%; this means that 30% of our incoming freshmen drop out of high school.  Even worse, the dropout rate for Hispanic students is 52%.  According to this study, funded by the Asian American Legal Defense and Eduation Fund, the rate for Asian students is 42.9%. (Hispanic students comprise 22.4 % and Asian 28.9 % of Lowell students.)

The prison issue is also not a new one.  We know about ‘three strikes you’re out’ and mandatory sentencing, but have we thought about the results?  Mark Hemenway of New England Prison Ministries, a faith-based group that works to help released prisoners establish a life and stay out of jail, spoke us about our current culture of incarceration.  Some facts:  the United States has more people in prison than any other country in the world.  The cost has been estimated at $40,000 to $50,000 per year per prisoner, with a rate of recidivism that may be as high as 75%.  According to Hemenway, we now spend more on our prisons than on our public universities (as someone pointed out, that’s not saying much; Massachusetts is near the bottom for spending on public higher education).  We constantly hear that there is no money for the schools or for other local services, but where is all the money going – to fund wars and prisons. It’s time to rethink our priorities as a society and direct our spending accordingly.

There are currently 2 responses to “Some painful realities”

Why not let us know what you think by adding your own comment! Your opinion is as valid as anyone elses, so come on... let us know what you think.

  1. 1 On June 29th, 2008, K-R-S said:

    Margaret, you know I luv ya’ (and to disclose that my husband is a correctional Officer w/ the DOC
    and my primary degree and interest is in this area, but the Massachusetts Court System via our
    State Government (the law setting end of the deal) sends folks to our prisons.
    There is a distinct differance between the Department of Correction and the County
    Correctional systems, both in terms of sentancing and organizationally. Just take
    a look at their rosters!
    As the director of a homeless shelter and day services; on average, per month, 2
    recently released individuals wind up on my doorstep (homeless) with no ID (MEGA issue!)
    for w/out an ID, you may as well not exist!),no benefits
    (health, etc..which is a part of their discharge protocols that are submitted
    to all of their funders (state & feds & available on state websites).
    Years ago, our prison system was somewhat self sustaining, with farms & canneries
    scattered throughout the state. As a result,labor was obtained from the prison
    population. Over the last decade (or more) all of those services have been
    contracted out to outside food vendors, as I understand it, at a much higher rate.
    The problem I see, we have left more prisoners with more time on their hands, fewer
    opportunities for job/skill/life training and a higher cost of operation.
    Secondly, within the prison system in MA, programming is not mandatory, it’s “only
    if they feel like it…” (direct quote)
    In addition, to consider the fact that that the Commonwealth has decreased funding
    for community mental health services, DSS & DYS and closed many of our state mental hospitals.
    As a result we are turning out a popluation of folks that are sicker.
    As a result many of our prisons have become substitutions for state mental health
    facilities with staff (by and large) that are trained to deal with criminal behavior
    not mental health issues.
    The other issue, is job training, described above…in an old life the prisons offered
    trade training in alot of differant areas…mmm…gone!
    So, OF COURSE we spend more on prisons. Perhaps, when we look at the cost
    of imprisoning an individual, we should break those costs down and figure out
    the real costs.
    Perhaps we should take a good hard look at job/trade training implementation and
    mental health/substance abuse services before folks get to the point of being in
    prison, we will realize a cost savings. Perhaps, we should target the “laborer”,
    as those are the ones “thrown up” by by the contracting industry when the economy
    goes bad (they’re the first to get it..don’t see any “local developers/ contractors”spearheading”
    putting forth the effort to better their workers lives!).

    Seriously, the issue of prisons in MA deserves its own blog. Perhaps
    Commissioner Clark, our Governor and our Legislator will take heed AND actually work
    some improvement into our society.

  2. 2 On June 29th, 2008, Margaret said:

    You’re right that this is a much bigger issue than the way I portrayed it, especially with regard to the mental health issues. (I lived in Manchester, NH for a brief time some years ago and couldn’t believe the population of mentally ill people just living on the streets which I understood was from a state institution closing down). However, your point of looking at “job/trade training and mental health/substance abuse services before folks get to the point of being in prison” is exactly what I’m saying about our high school dropouts. Let’s be proactive and help people before their situations spiral out of control.

  • Blogroll

  • Contact Us

  • Education Links

  • Local Groups

  • Local media