Debunking an Urban Myth

For today’s post, I want to address an urban myth that apparently has been making the rounds for years. I heard this last year in one of my classes, and then it came up indirectly again last month in a discussion about the importance of cementing reading skills by third grade. The myth is that states use third grade literacy scores to determine how many prisons to build (or how many prison beds they will need). This is not true, and although it has been cited repeatedly, nobody seems to know the origin of the myth.

One possible source might be a book titled The School-To-Prison Pipeline: Structuring Legal Reform. I haven’t read the book, but last week someone I know was discussing it and cited the third grade literacy quote in such a way that it seemed it came from the book. At any rate, the idea that officials use third grade reading scores to determine how many prison beds they will need has now been debunked and relegated to the dustbin of urban myths. The only problem, of course, is that (almost) nobody knows this. So I’m going to do my part to ensure that truth soldiers on, and urban myths…don’t.

Here are a couple of links to explain how and why the erroneous quote has been proven false, including perhaps the original article in the Oregonian that started the debunkification:

Prisons don’t use reading scores to predict future inmate populations: “The myth probably has survived and circulated for more than a decade because it reflects the more fundamental truth that there is a powerful connection between school failure and crime.”

Cite the Source: “The idea that prison-planning is based on elementary school literacy drop-out rates is a commonly held assumption…The problem is that I can’t find one single piece of state legislation or governmental corroboration for this. Nowhere can I locate official documentation that prisons indeed “use reading scores to predict future inmate populations.” As far as evidence goes, I can find nothing.”

PolitiFact Oregon: “We started with a basic Google search and came across the claim we’d kept hearing: Prison officials use third grade reading scores to predict the number of beds they’ll need. That claim, it seems, is nothing more than an Internet rumor that has been soundly disputed. In fact, The Oregonian happened to refute the adage a couple years back. “This is an urban myth,” California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation spokeswoman Terry Thornton wrote in an email to Oregonian reporter Bill Graves.”