In early April, law enforcement personnel and members of the Chester County, Pennsylvania state legislative delegation met to discuss the impact pre-K funding could have on future crime.
Fight Crime: Invest in Kids, one of the committees in the Council for a Strong America network, is a non-profit, bipartisan organization made up of law enforcement, retired military personnel, business leaders, religious leader, coaches, and athletes. Together, the diverse group promotes solutions for good American citizenship among the next generation.
At the April meeting, the delegation from Fight Crime referenced their 2017 report, Pre-K Key to Cutting Pennsylvania Prison Costs and Boosting School Success.The report notes, “State and national research studies show that quality early learning programs have been proven to reduce disadvantages, resulting in fewer behavior problems, better school outcomes, increased high school graduation rates, and ultimately less criminal activity.” According to the report, more than $244 million in benefits to society could be realized simply by increasing access to high-quality pre-K programs.
With America housing 22 percent of the world’s prison population despite having only five per cent of the world’s population, it’s clear that something in the prison system is not adding up. The demographics of prisons across the nation are skewed to people of color and disenfranchised persons – put bluntly, if you are not white and/or you are poor, you are more likely to go to jail.
Sadly, persons of color remain firm targets of discrimination when it comes to hiring and employment (Harvard Business Review cites no change in hiring discrimination against black Americans over the past 25 years). With a harder time gaining meaningful employment, persons of color make up the larger share of Americans living in poverty – and that brings us full circle. Not being white, and being poor, greatly increases one’s chances of going to prison in America – and the current system is a cycle designed to keep things that way.
While policy changes and a move away from for-profit prison systems will go a long way in aligning America’s prisons with those of more progressive countries, education remains a key driver in preventing citizens from going to jail in the first place, in becoming more attractive prospects for hire, and in reducing recidivism. To that end, Fight Crime: Invest in Kids wants to see better educational opportunities across the board starting early – very early.
“No child is destined at birth to end up in jail,” Sherriff Carolyn Welsh said at the above-noted meeting.
“Strategic investments of public dollars into education can save taxpayers billions of dollars in the longer run, by decreasing levels of welfare, crime and other challenges facing our society. This is a classic (policy) case that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound (and then some) in cure,” added State Rep. Duane Milne. “The connection between well-funding early education initiatives and the later effects on reducing the likelihood of someone engaging in criminal activity and becoming a ‘regular’ of the criminal justice system is clear, convincing and compelling.”
Fight Crime: Invest in Kids suggests that a $40 million boost in quality pre-K funding in the 2018-2019 budget would translate into 4,400 more children receiving their best educational head start.
Currently, approximately 106,000 three- and four-year-olds in Pennsylvania, and 3,500 children in Chester County, do not have access to quality pre-K education. That’s a whole lot of young ones staring down the dreaded school-to-prison pipeline, but it’s also a reality that can be averted for many of them with the simple allocation of dollars into early education.
“Children who attend high-quality learning programs will enter kindergarten ready to learn, do better in school, are more likely to graduate high school and college, and become thriving citizens within the community,” noted Christine Fox, curriculum director for Warwick Child Care Center. And she is absolutely right.
Christopher Zoukis is the author of Federal Prison Handbook: The Definitive Guide to Surviving the Federal Bureau of Prisons, (Middle Street Publishing, 2017), and College for Convicts: The Case for Higher Education in American Prisons (McFarland & Co., 2014). He regularly contributes to New York Daily News, Prison Legal News and Criminal Legal News. He can be found online at ChristopherZoukis.com, PrisonEducation.com and PrisonerResource.com.