“He who opens a school door, closes a prison.” – Victor Hugo
It is pre-eminent to define these two important words in the quote to pave the way towards one’s understanding. A school is an institution designed to provide learning spaces and a learning environment for the teaching of students under the direction of teachers, whiles prisons, according to Oxford dictionary, are buildings in which people are legally held as a punishment for a crime they have committed or while awaiting trial. Both schools and prisons are vital societal institutions that share the goal of creating a better society but with different objectives and strategies. They are both necessary, however, schools are destined to remain over prisons. The writer of this article believes that opening the doors of schools (education) literally closes prisons.
Nadia Lopez is a wonderful educator who made Victor Hugo’s statement the main goal of her school (Mot Hall Bridges Academy) in Brownsville, Brooklyn – New York. Giving a talk on TED, she asked very important questions; “if our children are not in the class rooms, how will they learn? And if they are not learning, where will they end?” The honest and simple answer to these questions is what determines the practicality of Victor Hugo’s famous saying.
It is universally known that the major cause of committing crime is the lack of moral and intellectual education. US statistics reports that 68 percent of all males in prison do not have a high school diploma. Only 20 percent of California inmates demonstrated a basic level of literacy, and the average offender reads at an eighth grade level. Another statistic from the US indicated that over 80 percent of the incarcerated populations are high school dropouts. This is most alarming in countries in Africa where over 90 percent of inmates have no formal education at all. From these statistics we can deduce that education has a direct impact on prison rate.
Global statistics indicated that murder, theft/robbery, drugs and rape are the leading causes of imprisonment. A Mirror news headline read: “Britain’s dead list criminals: the 47 lifers who will never be free from jail.” All these 47 criminals engaged in one or more of the above crimes. The report indicated that, these criminals will never be freed from jail. You can imagine how many of such cases exist all over the world. The incidence of such crimes is reduced to the barest minimum with education. What this means is that; if these 47 criminals were to get the necessary education and have what it takes to live a better life, they will definitely not commit those crimes and their cells would have remain closed.
How does schooling prevent imprisonment?
Sully stated that “education seeks, by social stimulus, guidance, and control to develop the natural powers of the child, so as to render him able and disposed to lead a healthy, happy and morally worthy life.” An individual can be influenced or conditioned best within the age range 1 – 17 years. The whole of this period is spent in school. Aside the family, school is the next institution that imparts morality in the lives of people. Morality and the sense of goodness are learned best in schools. The edge to commit crime comes into play when morality is lost. And as schools condition children to be morally upright, the sense of committing crime vanishes which definitely reduces imprisonment.
The first time we are introduced to formal education is in school. The school years are the grounding years of one’s education, laying the foundation of a child’s development and transforming children into responsible citizens and good human beings. Schools engage their pupils in good thought all through their period of stay. As the adage goes, an idle mind is the playground of the devil. Students are engaged in creativity, problem solving and most importantly learning to live a better life free from crime and conviction. They have no time and space to engage in societal evil thoughts that create crime. In Ghana, a non-boarding student spends averagely nine hours out of the 12 hours in a day while a boarding student spends an average of nine months in a year under the care and control of teachers. Most of the time at which a child is considered most volatile in terms of influence is during their educational years (schooling). The child obviously has no time to be influenced negatively through external means.
Nevertheless, individual potentials, skills and abilities are discovered best in schools. Caitlin Curley ascertains to the fact that a lack of academic experience, little employment experience and high poverty level are the critical factors that leads to crime and subsequent imprisonment. Schools serves as the primary source of knowledge and skills necessary in eliminating these factors. It is through schooling that people become doctors, nurses, teachers, bankers, politicians, business executives, engineers and other kinds of professionals. They achieve financial freedom and most importantly possess a very good sense of judgment between right and wrong.
Not astonishing, schools are now built in prisons to train and equip inmates with the requisite knowledge and skills that will transform them into better individuals in society. This has automatically reduced the rate of recidivism. It is realized that imprisoning someone, without also educating and training them in different skills, does not transform their character, in fact the traditional form of imprisonment worsens the individual even more. That is the underlying reason why schools are introduced in the prison systems of most countries. Because of the practicality of this quote, almost every country is adopting the new prison system where schools are included and inmates receive formal education as well as vocational training. In UK, it is estimated that every pound spent on prison education saves tax payers more than two pounds, and in the US, the rate is four to five dollars saved for every dollar spent. In England and Wales, a 2014 study of more than 6000 prisoners found that those who undertook education courses were seven percent less likely to return to prison. Furthermore, a prison education program in Ukraine had only three out of 168 participants (1.8%) re-offend in 2013; meanwhile the re-offending rate in Ukraine in 1993 was 30% within three years and 66% within five years.
Yes, modern school systems such as boarding houses might lead to the formation of some bad groups with ill intentions. However, this happens in loose and uncontrolled systems. Today, most schools have now adopted strategies to detect and stop such bad groups that can lead to crime behaviour in the future. One interesting thing about school is that it does not simply teach pupils morality and skill training, but can spot children with antisocial personalities and can help aid these children. I equally agree to the opinion that we must transform our school structure to fit the needs of the complex mind of the 21st century child. It is absolutely true the current school structure that makes students depend on someone to carry them across the bridge of financial freedom, should be revised. If this transformation is done, anybody that passes through the new structure will be more skillful in problem solving and more capable of leading an independent life.
Education instills optimism in every mind that passes through schooling. Though prisons cannot be totally closed, we can completely adopt the reformative theory of punishment, the purpose of which is to reform the criminal and make them a good citizen. Pretty obviously, the above statistics and evidences are but a few of the reasons why “he who opens a school door, closes a prison.” Instead of building prisons with maximum security and high level technology, I think it is more relevant to focus our energy, technology and intelligence in establishing schools and updating the current school structure and content to fit the needs of the information age.