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The Importance of Reading

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By Florence Pritchard

Freedom Public Library

Recently, I attended a meeting of the Belleview Friends in their historic library building. Someone said the states’ prison agencies use third-grade reading scores to plan for the number of prison beds that will be needed in upcoming years. The lower the scores, the more beds they plan for.

This is indeed an urban myth. States’ prison planning formulas have nothing to do with school children. However, there are some facts that link literacy and incarceration, says Gary Romano, President of Civitas Strategies. He states: “The National Adult Literacy Survey reported that the percentage of prisoners in U.S. jails who tested at the two lowest levels of reading proficiency is 70 percent.

 “The U.S. Departments of Justice and Commerce estimate that 30 percent of federal inmates, 40 percent of state prison inmates, and 50 percent of persons on death row are high school dropouts.

Dr. Andrew Sum and his colleagues at Northeastern University found that young people who drop out of high school are 63 percent more likely to be incarcerated or otherwise institutionalized than their peers with four-year college degrees.

“The correlation between early reading experience and high school dropout is proven repeatedly in academic studies. In 2011 the Annie E. Casey Foundation report ‘Early Warning! Why reading by the end of Third Grade Matters’ showed definitively that low-income children who are not reading on grade level by 3rd grades are six times more likely to drop out of high school than their peers are. And low-income children of color who are not at grade level by 3rd grade? Eight times more likely to drop out of high school.”