Education is Key to Public Safety

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Jason Fenster – 202.558.7974 x306 /
Zerline Hughes – 202.558.7974 x308 /

Education is Key to Public Safety
Lack of investment across D.C. causes disparities, disadvantages communities

WASHINGTON, D.C. — According to a study released today by the Justice Policy Institute (JPI), policymakers in D.C. need to look beyond policing and incarceration when it comes to the city’s public safety strategy.  Instead, they should adopt a holistic approach that prevents justice system involvement in the first place. In particular, education has been shown to reduce contact with the justice system both for youth and adults. The District has a troubling history of lagging behind the rest of the nation in ensuring the educational success of its students, particularly those from communities of color. As people who experience barriers to educational achievement are disproportionately represented in the criminal justice system, it makes good sense to focus on improving education outcomes as a way to increase public safety.

The Education of D.C.: How Washington D.C.’s investments in education can help increase public safety investigates the intersection of public safety and education and the troubling disparities that exist in the city. In Wards 7 and 8, which are home to the greatest percentage of the school-aged population, there is serious need to commit resources to level the playing field so youth there can meet their potential. For example, the D.C. Public School Preschool program only has space for approximately 18.4 percent of youth living in the District under the age of five, despite early childhood education being linked to improved outcomes for youth.

“Investments in education lead to better paying jobs, stronger community ties and a decreased risk for crime,” said Tracy Velázquez, executive director of JPI. “There’s plenty of ink spilled to point out the mistakes of D.C.’s youth, but not enough used to talk about what we adults can do to help the City’s kids succeed. Supporting public safety means investing in our youth; and the place to start is in the classroom.”

As The Education of D.C. points out, there is remarkable disparity in educational attainment across D.C. From 2006-2008, nearly all (99 percent) adult Whites 25 years and older had completed a high school education; comparatively, 80 percent of Blacks and 57 percent of Hispanics had received a high school degree. This crisis begins at the elementary school level; by fourth grade, there is already a 62 percentage point gap in the number of students reading at or above grade level.

“The right answer – and the right thing to do -- is to keep young people in school,” added Joseph B. Tulman, Director of the Took Crowell Institute at the U.D.C. David A. Clarke School of Law. “Pushing children who miss school into the delinquency system defies common sense; it is counter-productive. When authorities use aversive responses and promote punitive policies, they increase kids’ alienation from school and decrease the likelihood that those kids will pass to the next grade and ultimately graduate from high school. We know what works:  school-wide positive behavioral programs, along with individualized services for students who have particularly difficult circumstances that contribute to school exclusion and absences.”

The Education of D.C. includes a number of recommendations for crafting an effective public safety strategy by supporting D.C.’s youth and investing in smart, proven education policies:

To read The Education of D.C., CLICK HERE. For additional information, please contact Jason Fenster at (202) 558-7974 x306 or  The Education of D.C. is the first in a series of research briefs that will be released by JPI in 2012 to show how the District could improve public safety and outcomes for youth through positive social investments.

For more JPI reports on supporting D.C. youth and crafting smart justice policies, please visit our website at

The Justice Policy Institute, based in Washington, DC, is working to reduce the use of incarceration and the justice system and promote policies that improve the well-being of all people and communities. For more information, please visit