Chapter 2: The Impact on Public Safety

As Chapter 1 demonstrates, truant and chronically absent elementary school are much less likely to graduate high school.

Students who do not complete high school are more likely to become either perpetrators or victims of crime. When elementary school students are truant or chronically absent, these are early warning signs of their risk to drop out of school and end up in the criminal justice system.

There is a Strong Link between High School Dropouts and Crime

Truancy and chronic absenteeism have long been considered serious risk factors for juvenile delinquency.58Loeber, R., & Farrington, D. P. (2000). Young Children Who Commit Crime: Epidemiology, Developmental Origins, Risk Factors, Early Interventions, And Policy Implications. Development and Psychopathology, 12(04), 737-762. This risk begins in elementary school. Truancy is considered an “early warning sign” that a young person will become a juvenile delinquent by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention59Garrey, E. M. (1996). Truancy, First Step to a Lifetime of Problems. US Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. Juvenile Justice Bulletin. Retrieved from, https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles/truncy.pdf. and is correlated with substance abuse, gang involvement, and other criminal activity.60Baker, Sigmon & Nugent (2001). Truancy Reduction: Keeping Students in School. U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, Juvenile Justice Bulletin, page 2. Retrieved from, https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/ojjdp/188947.pdf. Likewise, the California Department of Education identified truancy as the single most powerful predictor of juvenile delinquent behavior.61Assem. Comm. on Pub. Safety, Analysis of Sen. Bill No. 1317 (2009-2010 Reg. Sess.) (as Amended June 16, 2010, p. 8.

Records from San Francisco, Baltimore and San Bernardino County also reveal a shocking trend with respect to failure to complete school. High school dropouts are at risk of getting involved in violent crime – or becoming the victim of violent crime.

Between 1999 and 2007, in Baltimore, Maryland, 92% of juvenile victims of violence were chronically truant.62The Office of Youth Violence Prevention, Baltimore City Health Department, August 2009. Retrieved from http://www.baltimorehealth.org/info/2009_08_31_YouthViolenceReport.pdf. Similarly, a study of murder profiles in San Francisco from 2004 to 2008 revealed that 94% of San Francisco’s homicide victims under the age of 25 were high school dropouts.63Harris, K. (2010). Pay Attention Now or Pay the Price Later: How reducing Elementary School Truancy Will Improve Public Safety and Save Public Resources. City and County of San Francisco District Attorney’s Office. The demographics of the murderers were identical. Finally, in preparing this report, our office conducted a review of homicide victims between the ages of 18-25 in San Bernardino County for the past five years. The analysis revealed that 76% of the homicide victims who attended school in San Bernardino County were high school dropouts.64Data gathered by the Attorney General’s Office in cooperation with the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office and the San Bernardino County Office of Education, completed on September 9, 2013.

More broadly, Harvard and University of Washington sociologists looked at national incarceration rates and found that the cumulative risk of death or imprisonment by age 30-34 nearly triples for men who do not finish high school. Based on their research, 14% of white men and a staggering 62% of black men who don’t finish high school are dead or have been or are incarcerated in prison or jail by the age of 30-34.65Pettit, B., & Western, B. (2004). Mass Imprisonment and the Life Course: Race and Class Inequality in US Incarceration. American Sociological Review, 69(2), 151-169.

By staying in school – even for one additional year – a young person’s risk of becoming involved in criminal activity decreases.66Lochner, L., & Moretti, E. (2004). The Effect of Education on Crime: Evidence from Prison Inmates, Arrests, and Self-reports. American Economic Review, 94(1). An increase of graduation rates by 10 percentage points would result in a 20% drop in violent crime, and prevent 500 murders and more than 20,000 aggravated assaults per year in California.67Assem. Comm. on Pub. Safety, Analysis of S.B. No. 1317 (2009-2010 Reg. Session) as Amended June 16, 2010, page 8, citing, Fight Crime: Invest in Kids California, School or the Streets: Crime and California’s Dropout Crisis (2007) page 6.

To scale the impact of a 10% improved graduation rate to a city, we can look to Sacramento. Former Sacramento Police Chief Rick Braziel stated that “[b]eyond the fiscal impact, studies have shown that increasing graduation rates by 10 percentage points would prevent 22 homicides and more than 1,100 aggravated assaults in Sacramento County each year.”68Baziel, The Time to Act is Before the Dropouts Get Arrested, Sac. Bee (Sept. 20, 2009) page 5E.

  1.    Loeber, R., & Farrington, D. P. (2000). Young Children Who Commit Crime: Epidemiology, Developmental Origins, Risk Factors, Early Interventions, And Policy Implications. Development and Psychopathology, 12(04), 737-762.
  2.    Garrey, E. M. (1996). Truancy, First Step to a Lifetime of Problems. US Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. Juvenile Justice Bulletin. Retrieved from, https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles/truncy.pdf.
  3.    Baker, Sigmon & Nugent (2001). Truancy Reduction: Keeping Students in School. U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, Juvenile Justice Bulletin, page 2. Retrieved from, https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/ojjdp/188947.pdf.
  4.    Assem. Comm. on Pub. Safety, Analysis of Sen. Bill No. 1317 (2009-2010 Reg. Sess.) (as Amended June 16, 2010, p. 8.
  5.    The Office of Youth Violence Prevention, Baltimore City Health Department, August 2009. Retrieved from http://www.baltimorehealth.org/info/2009_08_31_YouthViolenceReport.pdf.
  6.    Harris, K. (2010). Pay Attention Now or Pay the Price Later: How reducing Elementary School Truancy Will Improve Public Safety and Save Public Resources. City and County of San Francisco District Attorney’s Office.
  7.    Records gathered by the Attorney General’s Office in cooperation with the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office and the San Bernardino County Office of Education, completed on September 9, 2013.
  8.    Pettit, B., & Western, B. (2004). Mass Imprisonment and the Life Course: Race and Class Inequality in US Incarceration. American Sociological Review, 69(2), 151-169.
  9.    Lochner, L., & Moretti, E. (2004). The Effect of Education on Crime: Evidence from Prison Inmates, Arrests, and Self-reports. American Economic Review, 94(1).
  10.    Assem. Comm. on Pub. Safety, Analysis of S.B. No. 1317 (2009-2010 Reg. Session) as Amended June 16, 2010, page 8, citing, Fight Crime: Invest in Kids California, School or the Streets: Crime and California’s Dropout Crisis (2007) page 6.
  11.    Baziel, The Time to Act is Before the Dropouts Get Arrested, Sac. Bee (Sept. 20, 2009) page 5E.