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Michigan Law Enforcement Leaders: Invest in Early Education or Foot Bigger Prison Bill Later

LANSING, MI (September 9, 2009) — At a news conference today, law enforcement leaders with the crime-prevention nonprofit organization, Fight Crime: Invest in Kids Michigan, released a research brief entitled, “Invest in Early Education Now, Spend Less on Prison Later.” The research indicates that high-quality early learning programs for at-risk children ages birth to five can significantly reduce crime and ultimately cut corrections costs by a quarter or more.

Currently in Michigan, there are more than 79,000 incarcerated adults in jails and state prisons, with corrections costs exceeding $2 billion every year. The crime fighters said that Michigan would save about $500 million in taxpayer dollars if it cut prison costs by a quarter by investing in early learning.

With kids heading back to school, law enforcement leaders are calling upon the Governor and State Legislature to keep funding for early childhood care and education programs that have been slated for cuts or elimination, as some of the best investments to save taxpayer dollars and to curb future crime. They are also urging Senators Levin and Stabenow, as well as the rest of the Michigan Congressional Delegation, to support new federal legislation to implement the proposed Early Learning Challenge Fund, which will provide $1 billion per year for states to expand and improve their early childhood development initiatives.

Law enforcement leaders said it would be short-sighted for state lawmakers to eliminate more than $200 million in state funding for 30,000 preschool slots, child abuse and neglect prevention services to more than 14,000 children ages zero to three, and reduced child day care services for children of the working poor, when these are the proven investments that can reduce prison spending.

“We’re here to talk about dollars and common sense,” said Mt. Morris Township Chief (retired) Eric King, state co-chairman of Fight Crime: Invest in Kids Michigan. We know how expensive it is when someone becomes a career criminal. If getting these kids access to early learning can help us avoid those enormous costs, then we need to make sure they have that opportunity today.”

A long-term study of the high-quality Perry Preschool in Michigan found that by age 40, the kids left out of the program were 85 percent more likely to be sentenced to jail or prison. Another study detailed in the report showed that at-risk kids who did not attend Chicago’s Child-Parent Centers were 24 percent more likely to be incarcerated than similar kids who did attend.

Battle Creek Police Chief David Headings emphasized the cost-saving benefits of investing in high-quality early childhood education and care, especially for at-risk young children. Researchers at the Federal Reserve found that the Perry Preschool program had an annual rate of return on investment of 16 percent. The majority of the cost savings in the Perry study came from reductions in crime and incarceration.

“If there is one thing I’ve learned from my 32 years as a cop, it’s this: you pay now or you pay more later. You can pay now by investing in early care and education for our youngest kids, or you pay much more later through unsafe communities and prison costs,” Chief Headings said. Headings added, “The consequences of the June 2009 State Senate vote that now threatens to eliminate 30,000 preschool slots will continue to result in increased prison costs.”

A new federal initiative, the Early Learning Challenge Fund, will support early education programs, such as Head Start, Early Head Start, pre-kindergarten or quality child care, which offer constructive environments for the healthy growth and development of young children in the first five years of life. The education committee in the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill in July that includes support for the Early Learning Challenge Fund.

Lapeer County Prosecutor Byron Konschuh said that more support is needed at the state and federal level to ensure that quality early childhood programs are available and affordable to more families. Costs for enrolling young children in early learning programs can run as high as $7,300 a year, which many families are unable to afford.

“Our escalating prison costs are the price we pay for not making these early learning investments years ago,” Prosecutor Konshuh said. “We can arrest, prosecute, and lock up criminals, but there is no substitute for getting in front of the problem by investing in the care and education of our youngest children.”

The need to increase access to high-quality early learning opportunities is great. For example, the federally-funded Head Start program for children in poverty serves only half of eligible children nationwide due to inadequate funding. And the youngest children, from birth to age 3, are even more dramatically underserved. In fact, Early Head Start serves only about three percent of eligible infants and toddlers nationally.

The research shows that quality is essential to getting the crime and incarceration reduction benefits of early learning. The Early Learning Challenge Fund legislation will enable states to adopt best practices, including higher qualifications for teachers and caregivers. In addition, it encourages smaller class sizes, and early screening and treatment of mental, emotional and behavioral problems, as well as parent coaching, which teaches at-risk families ways to promote their children’s development.

“Law enforcement needs all the help we can get. Today, with dwindling state dollars, we need to take advantage of all the federal partnership opportunities available to save kids and reduce crime,” Milton Scales, Chief of Criminal Investigations for the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, said. Scales added, “The Early Learning Challenge Fund can help Michigan children by closing the gap in services needed and programs provided. To protect the public safety we need to be as willing to provide children a slot in a preschool class as we are to guarantee them a prison cell.”

An electronic version of the research brief may be obtained at:

Eric King, Byron Konshuh, David Headings, and Milton Scales are Michigan state executive committee members of FIGHT CRIME: INVEST IN KIDS Michigan, an anti-crime organization led by 443 police chiefs, sheriffs, prosecutors and violence survivors, including 5,000 nationwide.