Birmingham Area Law Enforcement Leaders Say Quality Early Education Pays Off
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Crime fighters release new report showing early education cuts crime, saves taxpayers dollars
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (May 31, 2012) — Could a stronger focus on early childhood education help prevent crime? Yes, according to a group of local law enforcement officials visiting with pre-kindergarten children today. Jefferson County District Attorney Brandon K. Falls and Birmingham Police Captain Henry Irby released a new research report from Fight Crime: Invest in Kids called “Pay Now or Pay Much More Later” showing that high-quality early care and education can help at-risk children succeed and significantly reduce the likelihood that they will commit crimes.
The Birmingham area law enforcement leaders called on federal lawmakers to support funding for high-quality early education as a critical strategy to reduce crime, lower prison costs and save taxpayers money. The leaders signaled their support for early learning during a visit to the Festival Head Start Center on Thursday. D.A. Falls and Captain Irby and other law enforcement officers read to young children ages 2-5 enrolled at the Center. They noted that Alabama taxpayers spend more than $605 million a year on corrections—a figure that could be reduced by offering more at-risk kids high-quality early education opportunities. The report shows that this investment saves taxpayers on the back end from reduced corrections costs.
Recognizing that Congress must take actions to set priorities and reduce the deficit, law enforcement leaders are urging them to maintain flexibility to protect or even increase funding for vital programs such as high-quality early care and education. D.A. Falls and Captain Irby called on U.S. Senator Richard Shelby (R, Ala.), ranking member of the Senate Subcommittee on Labor, Health, and Human Services, Education, and all members of the Alabama Congressional Delegation to support funding for early childhood education and support efforts to strengthen the quality of early childhood development opportunities available to Alabama children.
Corrections spending nationwide was over $50 billion, according to 2010 data. Despite some drops in local crime rates in some jurisdictions, Alabama spent $605 million on corrections in fiscal year 2010. By contrast, Alabama spends just a fraction of that on pre-kindergarten for young children, $17.6 million. Research shows that high-quality early education can offer savings to states through reduced crime and corrections, with a potential return of $16 for every $1 spent. All preschool-age 4-year-olds in Alabama are eligible for the state’s Voluntary Pre-Kindergarten Program, but the statewide program serves only 6 percent (or 4,000 children) due to limited funding. The program meets all 10 quality benchmarks established by the National Institute for Early Education Research – 1 of only 10 states in the nation meeting that bar.
The brief cited a long-term study of Michigan’s High/Scope Perry Preschool, which found that at-risk children who did not participate in the high-quality program were five times more likely to be chronic offenders by age 27 than children who did attend. Because of their increased involvement in crime, the children who did not attend were 86 percent more likely to be sentenced to jail or prison by the age of 40.
Research findings published in the prestigious journal Science in 2011 strengthened the argument that high-quality early education can reduce crime. A follow-up at age 28 of over 1,400 low-income children in Chicago found that those who did not attend the Child-Parent Center preschools were 27 percent more likely to have a felony arrest by age 26 and were 39 percent more likely to have spent time in jail.
“Investing in the lives of young kids gives us hope to get ahead of the curve on crime prevention,” D.A. Falls said. “Early childhood education can jump start a child’s readiness for school and help them succeed in the long run and dramatically reduce the chances they will drop out of school and turn to crime. We can pay now for high-quality early education or pay much more later for high cost of incarceration.”
Cutting funding for early childhood programs would be shortsighted and risky, the group said, since quality early care and education programs actually save money in the long run. The Perry Preschool Program cut crime, welfare and other costs so much that it saved taxpayers an average of $180,000 for every child served, with the vast majority of the public savings coming from reduced crime costs alone.
“It’s our job to keep the public safe and put away dangerous offenders. However, anything we can do to divert an individual away from a life of crime offers a huge savings to the public. Reaching at-risk kids with help early in their lives gives them the building blocks and skills to achieve academic success and become contributing members of the community,” Captain Irby said. “Giving these kids early opportunities is one of the best tools we have to prevent crime and cut corrections costs in the future.”
About Fight Crime: Invest in Kids: Fight Crime: Invest in Kids is a national anti-crime organization of police chiefs, sheriffs, prosecutors, other law enforcement leaders and violence survivors with 61 members in Alabama and over 5,000 members nationwide. For a complimentary copy of our research report and more information, go to www.fightcrime.org.