Research by the nonprofit Fight Crime: Invest in Kids claims access to quality preschool prevents young people from drifting into criminal paths as they get older.
While education has been a known deterrent to future crime, advocates articulated a comprehensive roadmap to show how real success can be achieved, according to a new report from the group.
Noting that proposals for meaningful increases in preschool funding are taking center stage in the Congressional debate over infrastructure spending, the nonprofit said there’s no better time than now to become educated on the benefits of high-quality early learning program — particularly in low-income neighborhoods.
Fight Crime: Invest in Kids members called on federal (and state) policymakers to ensure that more children from families with low incomes have access to high-quality preschool.
The call for funding was backed up by law enforcement leaders.
“Increased federal investments can significantly assist states in expanding preschool programs and designing quality preschool programs that work best in their communities. Just as importantly, preschool has had strong bipartisan support, on both the federal and state levels,” said Vail (CO) Chief of Police Dwight Henninger, who serves as President of the International Association of Chiefs of Police.
“The evidence-based argument that shows the connection between pre-K and public safety resonates and builds lasting support, whether in red, blue, or purple states.”
Fayette County (OH) Sheriff Vernon Stanforth, who serves as President of the National Sheriffs’ Association, added: “It is much better to keep a kid from getting mixed up in crime in the first place than trying to get that same kid away from crime after he or she has already come into contact with the criminal justice system.”
“Research shows that, by bolstering access to quality early education, we will improve children’s readiness to succeed in school and life, helping them to avoid crime, and enabling them to contribute to the strength of our nation,” the report details.
Long-Term Benefits of Early Learning Programs
Research tells us that giving a child the right start in life can prevent later crime, mainly as the children’s intellect, emotions, and empathy are built in the foundations of their youth.
Because of this fact, researchers and advocates have long studied the impact that early education — particularly preschool — can have on children.
In Chicago, researchers have studied the lives of over 100,000 three- and four-year-olds since 1967, following them up until the age of 28. They found that children who did not participate in preschool were 70 percent more likely to be arrested for violent crime by age 18, according to Fight Crime: Invest in Kids.
Another recent study noted in the report found that Oklahoma’s universal pre-K program found that the program “decreased the likelihood that black children were later charged with a misdemeanor or felony crime at age 18 or 19.
While early education is imperative, the researchers have found that afterschool programs are also just as important, offering youth a safe place to socialize.
“Voluntary, quality early education can put kids on a positive path in life, giving them the foundational cognitive and social-emotional skills they need to help prevent later crime,” said Ingham County (MI) Prosecuting Attorney Carol Siemon.
“The evidence backs up this connection,” Siemon continued. “Decades of research, across numerous states and on the federal Head Start program, show the short- and long-term benefits of high-quality preschool for children’s development, particularly for children from families with low incomes.”
Recommendations & Roadmap
The Fight Crime: Invest in Kids advocates argue that state and local policymakers should follow these steps to creating a community of youth that grow up avoiding the criminal justice system:
- “Make high-quality early care and education available to all kids from birth to age five from families with low incomes;
- Offer voluntary home visiting to at-risk parents of young children;
- Provide effective in-school and after-school programs to all school-age children and youth to help keep them on track; and,
- Help kids who have had contact with the juvenile justice system by providing them and their parents effective interventions to steer them away from crime.”
While some of these recommendations may sound pricey, the researchers note that prioritizing how money is spent is the first step to achieving these goals.
“It is much better to keep a kid from getting mixed up in crime in the first place than trying to get that same kid away from crime after he or she has already come into contact with the criminal justice system,” said Fayette County (OH) Sheriff Vernon Stanforth, who serves as President of the National Sheriffs’ Association.
“Federal and state policymakers must work in a bipartisan manner to increase access to these programs, particularly for children from families with low incomes.
“At the federal level, investments should fund states to establish or expand a mixed-delivery system of voluntary early education programs, with publicly-funded preschool offered in diverse settings in the community, including in child care settings,” Stanforth said.
The advocates agree, noting that when our country fails to invest effectively in its children, everyone pays the price later — whether through taxes for criminal justice costs, business costs, and costs to the victim.
“Investing now in what works not only saves lives and protects Americans, it saves money,” the authors concluded.
The full report can be accessed here.
Andrea Cipriano is a TCR staff writer.