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Early Education a Crime-Fighting Weapon?

You'd expect educators and parents to be front and center advocating for early childhood education as state legislatures debate school funding for the next fiscal year. In New York and Maine, these advocates have another ally: top police officers.

Sheriffs and police chiefs are on a mission to convince state legislatures that investing in early childhood education, such as quality prekindergarten and the federal Head Start program, can be an important crime-prevention weapon—and ultimately save states money in incarceration costs.


In a recent opinion column in Maine's The Portland Press Herald, several veteran sheriffs and jail administrators urge lawmakers not to cut funding for Head Start and a program that provides home visits to at-risk families.


"High-quality early-learning programs for at-risk kids give them the best chance at success in school and in life, improve graduation rates, lower the need for special education and reduce later crime," the sheriffs wrote. They cite a couple of studies that show that "high-quality early education can be a proven crime-prevention strategy," including a 25-year study of Chicago kids that found that those who attended an early-childhood program were less likely as adults to be arrested, abuse substances and end up in prison.


In a letter published in the Bangor Daily News, the presidents of the Maine Chiefs of Police Association and the Maine Sheriffs Association also urge that funding be preserved for early intervention and the home visitation program. They make the same points as the other officers, noting that "focusing attention on help for young children is one of the best ways to steer them toward adult success and away from crime and trouble."


And in Albany, N.Y., on Monday, a county sheriff urged lawmakers to spend $20 million to help implement a rating system that would help parents find top-quality preschool programs. Warren County Sheriff Bud York says the programs help kids get started on the right path in school and life--and ultimately to stay out of jail, according to a report by the Public News Service.


York is a member of Fight Crime: Invest in Kids, a national nonprofit, anti-crime group based in Washington, D.C., that counts police chiefs, sheriffs, prosecutors, and attorneys general among its 5,000 members. The organization supports funding for Head Start and other programs.


Noting the high cost of incarceration, York says he wants to see less people end up in prison. "So, if there's any programs out there that might help do that, I want it done," he says.

It's hard to argue with that logic.

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