The almost 5,000 law enforcement leaders around the nation and more than 190 here in Pennsylvania who are members of Fight Crime: Invest in Kids have a direct message for everyone who cares about the impact and cost of crime: Pennsylvania jails are full of people serving time for serious and costly crimes.
It doesn’t have to be that way—providing at-risk kids with high-quality early learning programs can reduce the costs and impact of crime in the future. Law enforcement leaders know that one of the best ways to keep young people from dropping out of school and becoming criminals is to make sure they have a foundation for success in their earliest years. By standing up in support of high-quality early education for kids today we hope to see less crime and incarceration in years to come.
Law enforcement leaders base their views on both personal experiences and research. A study that followed children who participated in high-quality preschool and parent coaching programs through Chicago’s Child-Parent Centers found they were 20 percent less likely to be arrested for a felony or be incarcerated as young adults than those who did not attend. In recent years, studies of state pre-kindergarten programs have found significant increases in academic performance, and also important decreases in the need for special education and in being held back in school. Reducing crime is one of the key reasons why Governors and state legislators across the political spectrum have made bold commitments to high-quality pre-kindergarten. And now we are at a key fork in the road: policymakers in our state have an outstanding opportunity to bring higher quality early education to children currently enrolled and to offer it to thousands more children in Pennsylvania.
We currently spend $75 billion every year on corrections nationwide to incarcerate more than 2 million criminals. Pennsylvania spends more than $2 billion a year. That does not include the cost of county jails. A sophisticated analysis of over 20 pre-kindergarten programs for disadvantaged children demonstrated that quality pre-k returned an average “profit” (economic benefits minus costs) to society of over $26,000 for every child served by cutting crime and the cost of incarceration and reducing other costs such as special education and grade retention. The choice is simple: Pay for early education programs delivered with high-quality to Pennsylvania kids now, or pay far more later for the costs of crime in Pennsylvania. Fight Crime: Invest in Kids Pennsylvania supports current efforts to increase the quality of and access to early education in Pennsylvania.