According to a 2015 study conducted by the National Bureau of Economic Research, children who are raised in difficult environments develop negative automatic behaviors they employ in school and later in life with often-devastating consequences.
The study “Thinking, Fast and Slow? Some Field Experiments to Reduce Crime and Dropout in Chicago” specifically looked at high-school students and children in juvenile delinquent centers. When these children encountered a social situation that was difficult, their initial reactions mirrored behaviors they had learned in order to survive living in rough neighborhoods or being victimized. Basic survival likely depended on engagement in behaviors such as physically fighting back, running away, or asserting authority. In high-crime neighborhoods, such behavior may be necessary. However, when confronted by the authority of a classroom teacher or a police officer, this type of behavior is socially unacceptable and leads to negative outcomes.
The study comprised three separate trials: one involving low-income high schoolers, one involving 9th- and 10th-graders, and one conducted at the Cook County Juvenile Detention Center. The trials were based on participants’ involvement in the “Becoming a Man” (BAM) outreach program, which focuses on social-emotional learning. The program also provides group counseling, resilience strategies, and accountability for personal emotional integrity. The trials did not involve job training, tutoring, early childhood education, paid internships, or gifts of cash. Researchers concluded that the outreach program was more cost effective in improving the social outcomes of children in low-income environments than other programs targeted at reducing juvenile delinquency and crime prevention.
The reduction of high-school dropout rates leads to a lower neighborhood crime rate and increases the likelihood of adult success among children raised in at-risk environments. It also provides better outcomes than juvenile incarceration, a high-cost structure that increases recidivism and does nothing to improve high-school graduation rates. According to a 2003 Berkeley study, “The Effect of Education on Crime”, education helps reduce crime, arrest, and incarceration rates. Outreach programs like BAM lead to higher high-school graduation rates, increased future incomes, and fewer arrests among children raised in high-risk environments. Research studies, such as the “Thinking, Fast and Slow?” study and the Berkeley study, are providing an ever-growing body of proof that education and outreach are more effective than harsh criminal consequences when it comes to reducing juvenile crime and dropout rates.