Does Early Childhood Education Prevent Crime?

Written by P. Humbargar

Edited by A. Noelle

According to an article published by Fight Crime: Invest in Kids, the answer is yes. This bi-partisan anti-crime organization is made up of more than 320 police chiefs, sheriffs, state’s attorneys, leaders of law enforcement organizations, and crime survivors. The article, “Penny-wise and Pound-foolish: Preschool Funding Cuts Shortchange Our Future By Hundreds of Millions of Dollars,” presents the argument that preschool is an excellent investment that must be preserved, even in tight fiscal times. The article states that Illinois has cut $55 million in preschool funding over the past three years, affecting 17,600 disadvantaged children; and these cuts will cost Illinois taxpayers $200 million over the children’s lifetimes due to increased criminal, educational, and social services expenditures. The article presents evidence from numerous studies to back up its conclusion that “high-quality preschool works, improves public safety and saves far more than it costs.”

Image: Stuart Miles

The compelling research findings cited in the article include the following:

  • A two decade-long study of the Chicago Child-Parent Centers shows that by age 26, those not in high-quality early education were 27% more likely to have been arrested for a felony and 39% more likely to have spent time in jail or prison.
  • The Perry Preschool Project, which tracked disadvantaged Ypsilanti, Michigan children, found that by age 27, those who had not been in the high-quality pre-k project were five times more likely to be chronic lawbreakers with five or more arrests.
  • The Chicago Child-Parent Centers found that every dollar invested in high-quality preschool returned $11 in savings to society.
  • A recent analysis of the benefits of Illinois’ investments in preschool found a savings of up to $530 million each year, due to reduced crime, education, and social service expenditures.
  • A comprehensive analysis by the Washington State Institute for Public Policy found that on average, high-quality early education for at risk children yields a benefit to society of $3.60 for every $1 invested.
  • Children left out of New Jersey’s 2-year pre-k program were held back in school twice as much by second grade.
  • Children left out of Michigan’s state pre-k program were held back 51% more often by eighth grade.
  • Studies in Tennessee, Oklahoma, New Jersey, Arkansas, West Virginia, and New Mexico show clear gains in literacy among children attending pre-k programs.
  • Studies in several states show fewer developmental delays among children attending pre-k programs.
  • Preliminary results from an evaluation of Illinois state-funded preschool show significant improvements in school readiness areas such as language and social skills and suggest reduced problem behaviors and increased attention among participating children.

Additionally, the article states that education success is closely linked to later criminality—high school dropouts being eight times more likely to be in jail or prison.

The article does point out, however, that the programs must be high-quality in order to produce such strong cost-saving benefits and positive outcomes; and that poor–quality programs can actually result in poorer outcomes for at-risk children.

The evidence presented in the article is certainly convincing. Early childhood education for at-risk children has worked in the past—and investing in early childhood programs now, will undoubtedly help prevent crime and other costly problems later. Of course, there are plenty of naysayers who will claim that early childhood education is the responsibility of the parents and not a burden to be shouldered by the taxpayers. Ideally, yes, this is true; but our world is far from ideal. Economic factors often prevent parents (most often only a single mother) from being with their children during the day—leaving childcare and early education to others who may or may not be qualified. So, until this regrettable state of affairs changes, the choice is clear—as a society we can invest in early childhood education programs for disadvantaged children today or invest in prisons tomorrow.

To read the article in its entirety, click here.

Fight Crime: Invest in Kids is a nationwide anti-crime organization of over 5,000 police chiefs, sheriffs, prosecutors, and violence survivors, and is active in all fifty states. For more information visit their website at: http://www.fightcrime.org/

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