As prosecutors and members of the anti-crime organization, Fight Crime: Invest in Kids, our top priority is protecting public safety and getting dangerous criminals off the street. To be successful however, law enforcement must do more than react to crime. We must be proactive and invest in strategies that prevent crimes before they happen. High-quality preschool that provides children with the right start in life is one of the most effective crime-prevention tools we have.
Scientific studies have shown that the "architecture" of a child's brain is established before the age of five, and that everything they learn, both as a child and an adult, is built upon the strength of that architecture. Many children from low-income families start school at a disadvantage and fall farther and farther behind their classmates as lessons become more rigorous. Unfortunately, these circumstances frequently result in students dropping out of school, facing a lifetime of underemployment and, in too many cases, involvement in crime.
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Decades of research support the crime-prevention effects of investments in high-quality preschool. A study of Michigan's Perry Preschool Program tracked former preschoolers and a control group of their peers for decades. By age 40, those who did not participate in the program were twice as likely to be arrested for violent crimes. In addition, non-participants were 85 percent more likely to have been sentenced to prison or jail.
The Perry Preschool study also found that for every $1 invested, taxpayers realized a savings of as much as $16 (including more than $11 in crime savings.) These results translate to a reduced cost to taxpayers.
The benefits went beyond reductions in crime as well. When researchers checked back with Perry Preschool participants and non-participants at the age of 40, participants were more likely to be both high school graduates and have obtained an associate degree.
We understand that parents are responsible for being their child's first teachers. In today's economy however, it is not uncommon for both parents of a family to work full-time. Access to a high-quality preschool program is vital for providing a safe learning environment for children during these all-important early years. However, there are many families who simply can't afford this type of early care and education for their children.
Unfortunately, Illinois has erased much of the progress made in making state-funded preschool available to families in need. Over the last few years, funding cuts for the Preschool for All program have led to the loss of 22,000 openings for three and four-year olds across the state. In DuPage and Kane Counties alone, we've lost more than 1,100 openings.
Members of the General Assembly have a lot of difficult decisions to make in the upcoming weeks. In the home stretch of crafting the budget for next year, we ask lawmakers for their support and to seriously consider how preschool benefits our safety and our communities. We'd much rather see kids behind books now than behind bars later.
• Robert B. Berlin is the DuPage County state's attorney, and Joseph H. McMahon is state's attorney in Kane County. They are members of Fight Crime: Invest in Kids, a bipartisan organization of more than 325 police chiefs, sheriffs, prosecutors and victims of violence.