Initiative 26 is Not the Answer for Mississippi

If the State of Mississippi is ultimately trying to save lives with Initiative 26 and reduce its high teenage pregnancy rate -- one of the highest in America -- it must refocus its currently reactive efforts on prevention instead, especially on the education and poverty fronts.

Not only does Mississippi have the lowest levels of educational opportunity in the country, but it also has the highest percentages of its population over 25 years old without a high school diploma (roughly 20 percent). Couple this with a high poverty rate of 21.8 percent for the state, one of the highest in the nation.

All of this correlates with high levels of violence: Mississippi is one of the most violent states in the US. It ranks in the bottom half of the US Peace Index (34th), compiled by the Institute of Economics and Peace.

That violence costs the state money. Reduce Mississippi's levels of violence by a mere 25 percent and the state could save over $1 billion. These are monies that would be very useful in improving educational opportunity and intensifying poverty alleviation, two strategies critical in reducing its high teenage pregnancy rates.

The unfortunate tendency for many states in America, however, is to pursue policies that primarily react to violence, not aim to prevent it. But if Mississippi is truly concerned about its teenage pregnancy rates, the way to address it is not through Initiative 26, but by getting its population into school and out of poverty.

Michael Shank is US Vice President at the Institute for Economics and Peace. Follow Michael on Twitter. Follow the Institute for Economics and Peace on Twitter and Facebook. Michael serves on the board of the National Peace Academy, is an Associate with the Global Partnership for the Prevention of Armed Conflict and a doctoral candidate at George Mason University's School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution.