A few weeks ago I read the report entitled Education and Crime: Evidence from prison inmates in Jamaica (it can be downloaded from this page). It was published by the Jamaica Constabulary Force – Research, Planning and Legal Services Branch in March 2012. They outlined that the purpose of the study was to “examine the educational background of prison inmates currently serving time in adult correctional institutions in Jamaica and to describe the characteristic features of the typical inmate amongst the prison population”.
Two things jumped out at me at the very beginning of this 17-page report – the lack of a literature review (is there no research that is informing this study?) and the assumption at the get-go that there is a correlation between non-traditional high schools and the criminal background of inmates. For the former, good quality research generally includes a thorough review of the literature. After all, how would one be able to shape the direction of their research without first examining available information on the subject? The research isn’t as sparse as the JCF report suggests. True, information on Jamaica is scant, but that doesn’t mean research from other jurisdictions couldn’t provide a backdrop for our own research context. A quick Google search (search term: incarceration and educational background) turned up this 54-page report – The effect of education on crime: Evidence from prison inmates, arrests, and self-reports. And this is one of MANY.
Regarding the latter observation, it is possible that such a phenomenon being mentioned in the introduction of the report is a function of hindsight. However, the introduction doesn’t make this clear.
The following are the research questions the study sought to explore:
- What is the personal profile of the “typical” inmate amongst the prison population in Jamaica?
- What are the criminal and educational profiles of the “typical” inmate amongst the prison population in Jamaica?
- Are the names of some schools featured more frequently than others within the sample?
- Are some types of school featured more frequently than others within the sample?
I felt somewhat perplexed when I saw these questions because I felt there is something missing. As I continued to weigh the importance of naming the schools, I wondered if it wouldn’t be more useful to give a thorough profile of the schools most frequently named. That is, to outline factors such as:
- Average years of training/experience of teaching staff
- Student grade average
- Literacy/numeracy rate of student population
- Level of financial support
- Student access to learning resources
- Drop-out rate, success rate, etc.
Of course, this probably means that the study would have to be a joint effort between the JCF and the Ministry of Education, but at least the validity of the research would be strengthened. Plus, it would be more useful in informing educational and national security policy.
It would also be of significance if there was more to the social profile of the inmates. That is, a little bit more than the make-up of their household. A more comprehensive social profile would include information on
- The nature of their family relationships (close/broken relationship with father, mother, siblings)
- Possible connections/involvement with social organizations
- History of drug use/abuse
- History of mental health issues
- Years of paid/unpaid employment
That way, we can see how much of an impact their educational experience had on their criminal history – could be more, could be less, depending on the impact of other social factors.
It is not clear to me how the recommendations provided in the conclusion relate to the findings of the research. For example, one recommendation is to “Channel more resources to the non-traditional high schools to reduce class sizes and have them better equipped to deliver quality education”. However, what evidence is there in the research that they conducted that this is actually a problem? Was it just a hunch?
Or what about this recommendation: “Embark on a programme of parenting education in all communities using schools’ facilities during the periods when schools are out of session”? I’m not saying that this would not be useful, but how would we even know how to address the issue of parenting (or that we should at all) if all this study tells us is the make-up of the household (single-parent, both parents, grandparents only, etc)? I don’t understand.
The question is the same for almost all of the recommendations: How do we know if this is a problem – or the extent of the problem – if it didn’t come out in the study. What’s the point of going through the trouble of gathering evidence, and form conclusions based on evidence not gathered?
Okay, I believe I’ve sufficiently aired my concerns about this matter. What do you think?