Assistant Pittsburgh Police Chief
While education experts continue to debate the long-term impact of early childhood education in schools, more than 5000 law enforcement leaders from around the country recently endorsed a report claiming early childhood education is key to reducing crime.
The report released by the organization Fight Crime: Invest in Kids Pennsylvania on March 5, determined that high-quality early childhood education can help African-American children do better in school, avoid future criminal activity and even save taxpayers money.
“The kids we arrest who are involved in stealing or drugs are getting younger and younger. You can’t start when they’re 13 or 14,” said Pittsburgh Bureau of Police Assistant Chief Maurita Bryant, president of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives and a member of Fight Crime: Invest in Kids. “What I like about this whole concept of Pre-K is it gives children a chance to be socialized into the school setting. A lot of times kids aren’t really ready to go into school because they don’t have a home environment that was really structured.”
The report studied a group of at-risk, low-income children, ages three and four, enrolled in the Perry Preschool Program in Ypsilanti, Mich., and a group not enrolled in early childhood education. By age 27, the children who did not attend the program were five times more likely to be engaged in criminal activity with five or more arrests.
By age 40, those in this group were two times more likely to become chronic offenders with more than 10 arrests and 50 percent more likely to be arrested for violent crimes. They were four times more likely to be arrested for drug felonies by age 40, and seven times more likely to be arrested for possession of dangerous drugs.
“Early on if they don’t like school and they don’t fit into it, they’re never going to like school. Preparing children gives them an opportunity to learn the rules, to give them a reason to behave,” said Bryant. “That’s, a lot of times, what’s lacking, especially if they come from a dysfunctional home situation, especially if you have young teenage mothers. They don’t have what it takes to give them that discipline and structure.”
The report also looked at 989 children enrolled in Chicago Child-Parent Centers, compared to a group of 550 similar children who were not in the program. Children in the later group were 70 percent more likely to be arrested for a violent crime by age 18. By 26, they were 27 percent more likely to have been arrested for a felony and 39 percent more likely to have spent time in jail or prison.
The same Chicago study found that high-quality programs can provide a return on investment for taxpayers, nearly $11 in benefits for every $1 dollar invested. Of the $11 in benefits, $5 results from lower costs for crime and corrections
“For NOBLE our focus is on our children because if you invest in them at an early age, you don’t have to deal with them later on,” Bryant said. “Policy makers, the people who designate where dollars go, need to realize the importance of investing at an early age in the success of children. If you really want to change things, you have to make an investment.”
Locally, the report found that in Pennsylvania, the percentage of kids in the Pre-K Counts Public-Private Partnership program with developmental delays dropped by more than 60 percent from the time of entry to program completion. The number of 3-year-old children with conduct or self-control problems fell by more than 80 percent.
“In order to change negative behavior, you have to reach them earlier,” Bryant said. “With the whole neighborhood thing (in Pittsburgh), we’re kind of separated to where you can’t venture into this neighborhood because of this or that, but in a school setting kids learn to get along. They learn to play together and get along so if you can instill something early on, it makes a difference.”
The findings of the studies illustrated in the report mirror research that shows 60 percent of children with high levels of disruptive, aggressive behaviors in early childhood will manifest high levels of antisocial and delinquent behavior later in life.
“If you’ve never learned the basic rules and how to socialize with other people, you just are going through the motions,” Bryant said. “The chances of you not doing well in school or dropping out or being involved in a life of crime, that’s what you fall into. When you don’t fit in, you look for other people who don’t fit in.”
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