Law enforcement leaders’ number one priority is protecting the safety of our communities. We do this by arresting, prosecuting and, when necessary, incarcerating people who commit crimes. But ultimately our best opportunity to improve public safety is to keep people from becoming involved in crime in the first place. To do so, we urge our elected leaders to invest in strategies and practices that have proven, positive and long-term impacts on crime reduction.
We already know where our current path is leading us:
• Although crime rates have fallen over the past 20 years, there are still 1.2 million violent crimes and 9 million property crimes committed against people in our communities every year;
• There are more than 2 million American adults in local, state or federal jails or prisons;
• Nationally, we spend nearly $75 billion a year to incarcerate adults in federal and state prisons or local jails; and,
• Seven out of ten state prisoners do not have a high school diploma and finding stable employment once they leave prison is very challenging.
While these facts are daunting, they do not even begin to reflect crime’s other economic costs, or the suffering of crime victims. The path we are on is both fiscally unsustainable and devastating in its impact on human lives.
Reducing crime is one of the key reasons why governors and state legislators across the political spectrum are making bold commitments to high-quality early education and care. And now we are at a key fork in the road: policymakers nationwide have an outstanding opportunity to bring quality preschool to low- and moderate-income children in America.
The cost of the state-federal partnership that will make this possible is $75 billion over 10 years – a smart move when you consider the fact that we currently spend $75 billion every year on corrections nationwide to incarcerate over 2 million criminals.
By one estimate, this 10-year investment in preschool will produce over 2 million additional high school graduates. And if we can reduce the number of young people who commit felonies and the number who are incarcerated by 10 percent each – roughly half the reduction achieved by the Chicago Child-Parent Center program – we can reduce the number of individuals who are locked up by 200,000 each year. The resulting savings – $75 billion over the 10-year investment – could pay the federal costs of the preschool program.
These benefits have a tremendous bottom-line economic impact. An independent analysis of over 20 preschool programs demonstrated that quality preschool returned an average “profit” (economic benefits minus costs) to society of $15,000 for every child served, by cutting crime and the cost of incarceration, and reducing other costs such as special education and welfare.
The state-federal proposal also offers states and communities resources for voluntary home visiting programs to coach new parents and for improving the quality of child care. One home visiting program, the Nurse-Family Partnership, cut abuse and neglect in half and cut later criminal convictions of participating children by more than half.
The choice is simple: Pay for quality early education and care now, or pay far more for the costs of crime in the decades to come.