The Idea of an Essay, Volume 4

156 The Idea of an Essay: Volume 4 Literacy and Criminality Nathan Shinabarger When the prisons across the United States are surveyed, a common theme emerges. It transcends race, gender, age, and is perhaps the strongest common thread between the majority of criminals: a lack of literacy. Some argue this lack of literacy leads to high rates of recidivism, and increased crime instead of being able to help rehabilitate an offender. Recidivism, or the tendency of a criminal to reoffend or relapse into crime, places a huge burden on the Criminal Justice System. Crime is estimated to cost the United States over $1 trillion each year (Anderson, 1999), and recidivism is a massive part of what causes such a heavy burden on all taxpayers financially. Perhaps the even greater burden is the communities that must suffer through criminals who continually reoffend, stirring up disorder and unrest. Once recognizing the link between illiteracy and crime, the impacts of literacy programs in correctional facilities become significant and the implementation of such programs becomes clear. Researchers have long suspected that youth in the criminal justice system display a significant link between criminality and illiteracy. Evaluating this link, the Criminal Justice Initiative (1997) noted that “young people who … exhibit poor literacy skills are disproportionately found within the criminal justice system.” The problem is not solely in the fact that youth often lack proper literacy when entering the criminal justice system, but that their education, and thereby their literacy, rarely improves when they are released, predisposing them to more crime. The Criminal Justice Initiative (1997) also notes this saying, “In most cases, once juveniles are incarcerated, even for a short time, their line to education is forever broken. Most juvenile offenders aged 16 and older do not return to school upon release or graduate from high school.” Ultimately, they conclude that “there is a strong link between low levels of education and high rates of criminal activity, and one of the best predictors of adult criminal behavior is involvement with the criminal justice