Criminals More Likely to Be Drop-outs, New Report Says

But education levels are only part of what is a more complex and broader social picture, experts say

Shira Kadari-Ovadia
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A Library at the Ayalon prison, Israel, 2007.Credit: Alex Levac
Shira Kadari-Ovadia

Only 8 percent of people prosecuted for a crime in Israel have matriculation certificates, as opposed to 48.5 percent in the general population, according to a new report from the Central Bureau of Statistics.

The report, which was released on Tuesday and covers 2017, shows a clear correlation between the level of high school education and prosecution. Of all people prosecuted in 2017, 53 percent had not completed 12 years of schooling, compared to 14.5 percent of the general population.

When it comes to convicted criminals, the percentages are even higher: 55 percent did not complete 12 years of schooling, as opposed to 39 percent for those who were prosecuted but not convicted. Of all people prosecuted in 2017, 8.5 percent dropped out of school in the eighth grade. For the general population, this figure is 1.8 percent.

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But experts say that education levels are only part of what is a more complex and broader social picture. According to Prof. Badi Hasisi, head of the Hebrew University’s Institute of Criminology, “A person who lives in [the wealthy municipality of] Savyon who was a poor student will apparently not deteriorate to [committing a] crime. But living in socio-economically weak areas combined with dropping out of school can increase these chances.”

People turn to crime when their possibilities for legitimate work are limited, Hasisi said, adding, “The map of crime is not random: It focuses on poor places, which are also places characterized by high school drop-out rates, teenage pregnancy rates and high unemployment.”

In this kind of environment, links to criminal elements are more widespread, and are not connected to education per se, says Dr. Rotem Leshem of the Department of Criminology at Bar-Ilan University. “Education is a mitigating and moderating factor for crime, but it is not a direct cause. There are other causes,” she says. It is not a given that uneducated people will turn to crime. “Highly educated people can also commit crimes and can be very violent – domestic violence, for example, crosses all levels of education,” Leshem said.

According to the Central Bureau of Statistics, certain types of crimes are specifically correlated with levels of education. The highest percentage of offenders with matriculation certificates were those convicted of sex offenses and fraud (13.5 percent) while the lowest percentage was among those convicted of property crimes (5.7 percent).

Comparing education level and crime in various ethnic communities reveals staggering differences. The percentage of Arabs prosecuted in 2017 who had a matriculation certificate was 5.5 percent, compared to 10 percent in the Jewish population. This gap has grown, and was much more significant in 2017 than in previous years. The reason is that the percentage of Arabs who received matriculation certificates remained almost the same, while the percentage of Jews receiving matriculation certificates rose.

Israeli high school students take a matriculation exam, August 5, 2019.
Israeli high school students take a matriculation exam, August 5, 2019.Credit: Emil Salman

Gaps were also revealed between those prosecuted and those convicted: Out of everyone convicted in Israel in 2017, only 6.6 percent had matriculation certificates, while the number was 18 percent for those who were not convicted for various reasons.

The data from the Central Bureau of Statistics covers people from 20 to 29 years old. The percentage of matriculations stabilizes around the age of 20, because some high school graduates complete their certificates later. “Most offenders are young, between the ages of 15 and 20. After that, the criminal curve declines significantly,” said Hasisi, noting that the age at which offenders commit their first crime has a major impact on the chances a person will be drawn into a life of crime.

“A person who had his first contact with the police at age 15, as opposed to a person who committed his first crime at age 20 – apparently the younger person will become a career criminal. When you are young, crime becomes your whole world and you’re ‘burned’ in the eyes of the people around you.” Hasisi believes that in this regard, educational frameworks are important: “This emphasizes the need to keep young people in school, to fight for them so they don’t drop out. The chance that they will become criminals should be put off for as long as possible.”