A Data Mash-Up: University System of Georgia vs. Georgia Department of Corrections. It’s not pretty.
Spend much time sifting through reams of data about Georgia counties and sooner or later you’ll stumble across an interesting factoid you weren’t even looking for.
Here’s one example: Georgia convicts more people of crimes than it sends to college.
Maybe that’s not surprising, but it still seems a little troubling, and it may be one reasonable indicator of the overall social health of a community.
I was pursuing two different lines of research – one with University System data and the other with Department of Corrections statistics – when I noticed the contrast.
Ten years ago, in 2006, 36,202 Georgians matriculated as freshmen at one of the state’s colleges or universities, according to University System of Georgia data. That same year, a total of 66,255 were either convicted or pled guilty to crimes, according to Georgia Department of Corrections (DOC) data. This group included 44,762 who were placed on probation and another 21,493 who were sent to prison. That works out to 1.83 convicts for every college freshman.
Ten years later, by 2015, that ratio had improved. The number of college freshmen was up to 42,908 and the number of total convicts was down to 59,111, giving us about 1.38 new people entering the corrections system for every new college freshman.
That improvement was not, however, spread evenly across the state. In 2006, all five of our Trouble in God’s Country regions – Metro Atlanta, Coastal Georgia, Middle Georgia, North Georgia and South Georgia – were cranking out more convicts than college freshmen.
By 2015, Metro Atlanta had turned that around and was producing a few more college freshmen than total convicts – 22,903 college freshmen to 22,042 convicts. The other four regions still had negative college freshmen-to-convict ratios.
The key driver in that change has been a gradual but steady shift in where Georgia’s college freshmen come from.
What might be called a “regional share of criminals” went largely unchanged between 2006 and 2015. Every single region finished the 10-year stretch within a single percentage point of where it started. Metro Atlanta’s share of new convicts was exactly the same in 2015 as it had been in 2006 – 37.3 percent. Coastal Georgia and Middle Georgia saw their shares drop by a fraction of a point, while North Georgia and South Georgia each eked up by less than a point.
But the distribution of college freshmen did change significantly. In 2006, 46.2 percent of Georgians enrolling at the state’s colleges and universities came from our 12-county Metro Atlanta region; by 2015, that number was up to 53.4 percent. All four other regions saw their share of college freshmen decline at least slightly, with our 56-county South Georgia region taking the biggest hit; it was down from 14.1 percent of college freshmen in 2006 to 10.6 percent in 2015.
I mentioned above that the state’s convict population falls into two categories – those who are placed on probation (presumably for lesser crimes and/or plea deals) and those who actually go to prison. Because that overall convict population is larger than the number of college freshmen we produce each year, it follows that most individual counties would fit that profile, and that is indeed the case. Of Georgia’s 159 counties, 141 produced more criminals than college freshmen in 2015.
Of those, 22 actually sent more people to prison than to college. That list of counties earning that dubious distinction is as follows:
|Region||County||2015 College Freshmen||2015 Prison Admits|
At the other end of the spectrum, 16 counties produced more college freshmen than total convicts (prison admits and probationers combined). Here’s that honor roll:
|Region||County||2015 College Freshmen||2015 Criminal Convicts (Prison Admits & Probationers)|
Probably the strongest performer in this category is fast-growing Forsyth County, which also posts some of the state’s strongest economic, educational and public health numbers. Even a decade ago, in 2006, Forsyth County was already sending more people to college than into the criminal justice system, and it’s widened the gap considerably in the 10 years since then, as this chart shows.
In 2006, Forsyth sent 150 more people to college than into the criminal justice system; by 2015, it was sending more than two people to college for each one it convicted of a crime.
Just about the entire Metro Atlanta region performed well in this area, however. Of the 12 counties in our Metro Atlanta region, all but one saw its ratio of college freshmen-to-convicts improve over the 10-year period. The exception was Fayette County. It still finished on the honor roll (above) of counties sending more people to college than into the criminal justice system, but nonetheless finished the 10-year period with slightly poorer numbers.
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