Inquirer Editorial: Fighting crime before it's committed

Seth Williams
Seth Williams
Posted: October 26, 2012

Research shows that children who get an early start in life with a good education are more likely to become law-abiding adults.

So a campaign by law enforcement and school officials in the region and around the nation to support early education programs makes good sense on several fronts.

The "Fight Crime: Invest in Kids" campaign - which advocates more support and funding for early learning as a critical crime-fighting tool - took District Attorney Seth Williams to Penn Alexander School Tuesday. The top prosecutor read to a Head Start class.

Prosecutors like Williams are recognizing that the "lock-'em-up" strategy doesn't work. Early education is more likely to keep kids out of trouble to begin with.

For example, a Michigan study found that at-risk children who didn't attend a high-quality preschool were five times more likely to become serial offenders by age 27. A similar study in Chicago found that similarly deprived at-risk children were 70 percent more likely to be arrested for a violent crime by age 18.

Preschool also helps to bridge achievement gaps and can lead to significant academic gains among poor children. It also teaches children essential social skills and how to resolve conflict.

Yet only half of children across the country get an early education. Congress and the states, which spend millions incarcerating people, should make adequate early-education funding a priority.

In Pennsylvania, only 17 percent of 3- and 4-year-olds are enrolled in publicly funded preschool programs. And in Philadelphia - where too many students lag academically - more than 3,000 low-income city children remain on preschool waiting lists.

Gov. Corbett and lawmakers in Harrisburg can change that picture by increasing funding for early-learning programs.

The alternatives are clear: Pay now, or pay later. Pennsylvania spends some $2.3 billion annually on corrections and $340 million on early-childhood programs. The math should be simple.

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