Prevent crime by giving children the right start

“Prevent crime by giving children the right start,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch

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There is a growing consensus among law enforcement that we need to be doing much more on the front end to prevent crime on the back end. That’s why my office has created a Children’s Justice Division to focus our efforts on truancy, child support, delinquency, and child abuse and neglect in a way traditional prosecution doesn’t. However, we will never be able to arrest and incarcerate our way through the challenge of crime. Luckily for us, there are also other programs for kids that greatly reduce the chance that they will be involved in criminal activity later in life.

If children aren’t getting the right start in life, it’s far more likely that they will be sitting in a courtroom. And this isn’t just my opinion as a prosecutor; decades of research show that early care and education reduces crime. One study, the Perry Preschool Program, has tracked students for almost four decades with incredible results in preventing crime and incarceration. Researchers followed participants who attended the preschool and their peers who did not. By age 40, children who did not attend the program were twice as likely to be arrested for violent crimes.

Early care and education programs also save money. In fact, taxpayers save as much as $16 in incarceration, welfare and other costs for every $1 that we invest in quality early education.

Unfortunately, Illinois has chipped away at progress in providing voluntary preschool for families who cannot afford it on their own. Preschool for All, the state-funded preschool program, is serving 22,000 fewer 3- and 4-year-olds than three years ago. In the Metro East region alone, we have lost over 1,000 slots for preschoolers. With all the crime-prevention benefits and cost savings, it just doesn’t make sense to reduce this critical program any further.

Another program that is showing promising results in reducing crime is Redeploy Illinois. Redeploy Illinois uses fiscal incentives to encourage counties to reduce the number of youth sent to state facilities. Instead, local continuums of care and accountability for youth in the local juvenile justice system are built. Since 2006, the counties that have participated in Redeploy Illinois have reduced the number of youth sent to state facilities by 51 percent, including in St. Clair County.