By ALISON HERGET • Gannett New Jersey • October 29, 2008
EATONTOWN — It costs up to five times more per year to incarcerate someone as it does to educate him, Gov. Jon S. Corzine told hundreds of school professionals and community providers from across the state at a conference Tuesday.
Speaking to the well-researched link between safe, effective schools and delinquency prevention, the governor told educators they play a key role in keeping children engaged in school and off the streets, where they are more likely to commit crime and end up in jail.
“We need to do everything we can to stop this vicious cycle and make sure that we get into a virtuous perspective with what is happening with our youth,” he said.
The two-day seminar, “Blueprints for Safe Streets and Schools: the Governor’s Conference on Delinquency Prevention” follows an initiative launched by Corzine last year to reduce violent crime and create safer neighborhoods.
That plan called for preventing reincarceration of former prisoners by helping them become productive members of society, targeting gang involvement, increasing programs for at-risk children and coordinating delinquency prevention initiatives throughout the state.
During his conference speech at the Eatontown Sheraton, Corzine also linked the state’s investment in preschool expansion to delinquency prevention efforts.
While it costs $8,000 to $12,000 a year to educate a student in New Jersey, it costs $35,000 to $40,000 per year to incarcerate someone, Corzine said. But the reason for taking action on the issue spans beyond economics.
“It is the morally right thing to do,” he added.
Pedro Noguera, executive director of the Metropolitan Center for Urban Education and a professor at New York University, urged school professionals to think differently about helping students who act up in the classroom.
Implementing in-school suspension or community service as an alternative to out-of-school suspension is one way to keep children more engaged in school, he said.
Educators should also work harder to foster relationships between students and adults in schools.
“We have very clear evidence that the things we are doing to promote safety in our schools isn’t working,” he said.
“We need to start there. Because if we continue to do the same thing and expect different results, you know what that is? That’s the definition for insanity.”
James A. Wallace Jr., Monmouth County municipal alliance coordinator, said during a break that reform must also come from home, adding that “it’s up to parents to set rules and make sure kids abide by the rules that they set.”
Dennis Makarowski, from the Freehold Alliance to Prevent Alcohol and Drug Abuse, said schools and communities need to work together to help at-risk youth.
The alliance is developing a program with school professionals that would help seventh-graders who have a history of problems, such as drug or alcohol abuse, he said.
“You need to have a united front in dealing with these things,” he said.
Kevin Flynn, a student assistance counselor at Marlboro High School, said collaboration between professionals in each school will be key to implementing the take-home messages from the conference.
“Every school has problems, and every school has different problems,” Flynn said.
Instead of punishing a child who repeatedly misbehaves with out-of-school suspension where they are more likely to lose interest in school, education officials should consider asking themselves why the child is exhibiting that behavior and get him or her help, Noguera said.
“Who do we lock up?” he asked.
“We lock up the kids we don’t serve well in school.”