There are few parts of my job that are harder than dealing with juvenile crime. To see young Americans with great potential make terrible decisions that take away many of their opportunities for a successful future is nothing short of heartbreaking. I often hear the question, “What can we do to stop this from happening?” Fortunately, there are proven methods that can help lead these young people away from crime and toward a better path.
The best way to prevent crime is to stop it from happening in the first place. And research informs us that one of the best ways to keep kids on the right path is to invest in high-quality early childhood care and education.
A report by Fight Crime: Invest in Kids outlines several studies that show the short- and long-term benefits of high-quality early care and education (ECE) include less child abuse and neglect, better performance in school, fewer high school drop-outs and, ultimately, fewer crimes committed. One study that followed children who participated in a high-quality preschool and a “parent-coaching” program found that those children were 70 percent less likely to be arrested for a violent crime by age 18 than those not served.
The same study found a 29% increase in high school graduation rates among participants of the ECE program. Another report by Fight Crime: Invest in Kids demonstrates why these programs are so crucial for public safety: the report noted that a 10 percentage-point increase in graduation rates reduces murder and assault rates by about 20%. The fact that six out of 10 prisoners nationwide do not have a high school diploma is further evidence of this connection.
In order to prevent crime, we need to provide positive support at the earliest stages of life. The Governor and state legislature have taken historic steps to increase access and affordability for child care programs. New federal opportunities to grow access for families is through the Earned Income Tax Credit that is currently under consideration by congress. Programs such as this bring tax dollars back to Ohio and help ensure even more families will be able to place their infants, toddlers and children in affordable programs.
To state it plainly: Investment in early childhood education and care is an investment in public safety. We pay for these programs now, or we pay for the consequences later.
Vernon P. Stanforth is the Sheriff of Fayette County and a member of Fight Crime: Invest in Kids.