The key to eradicating crime and violent behavior, say organizers with the nonprofit Fight Crime: Invest in Kids Pennsylvania, is to invest more resources in early care and child education.
That was the theme earlier this week as Fight Crime visited the Penn Alexander School to unveil its findings in the multi-point plan, “High-Quality Early Care and Education: a Key To Reducing Crime in Pennsylvania.”
The plan points to numerous nationwide studies which found that in Michigan, at-risk children not enrolled in high-quality programs were five times more likely to be chronic offenders by the age of 27; another report, this one based on Chicago, found that at-risk kids not participating in the city’s child-parent center programs are 70 percent more likely to be arrested for a violent crime by the age of 19.
And since the School District of Philadelphia’s enrollment of at-risk/economically disadvantaged children currently sits at 80.6 percent – or 117,749 students – it only made sense for Philadelphia to be the first stop in a statewide mission, said Fight Crime Pennsylvania State Director Bruce Clash.
“Philadelphia is obviously important because it’s a big city, and important because so many kids here have unmet needs,” Clash said. “And that’s a travesty for them, their families and the community at large.”
Clashed praised the efforts of District Attorney Seth Williams in embracing the findings and for attending the unveiling, along with district superintendent Dr. William Hite Sr. and other elected and appointed officials.
Williams and Hite were both unavailable for comment as of Tribune press time.
The report illustrates in great detail the correlation between the lack of education and criminality and the positive effects reaped when limited resources are properly utilized, vital when only 17.6 percent of eligible 3- and 4-year-olds have access to high-quality publicly funded pre-K programs throughout the commonwealth. The report also shows that Pennsylvania spends more than $2.3 billion on incarceration, but only $340 million on early childhood education.
“Law enforcement leaders across Pennsylvania want to make sure more Pennsylvania children receive high-quality care and education in their early years – the help they need to succeed in life and avoid later crime and violence,” read a portion of the findings. “Despite strong evidence that high-quality early education can reduce future corrections costs in Pennsylvania and nationally, spending on corrections far surpasses spending on early education.”
The report further shows that, of criminals labeled chronic offenders by the age of 2, 35 percent of them did not attend or participate in preschool programs; conversely, only 7 percent of those that did attend such a program went on to be considered chronic offenders.
The report suggests several ways to cut off young criminal pipeline, including increasing the number of quality teachers, better funding for federal early care, Pre-K and headstart programs, better implementation of the Child Care and Development Block grant and more school districts taking part in the federal “Race To The Top” program.
“The thing most criminals have in common is the lack of a high school education. Not everyone who doesn’t get a diploma commits a crime, but there are more likely to commit a crime and be incarcerated,” Clash said. “So we targeted early childhood, with 40 years of research showing us that if you reach at-risk and economically disadvantaged children, 44 percent more were likely to graduate because they have a foundation to build on, develop, grow from and attain the skills they need in life.”
Clash said inroads are being made, citing the recent, multi-million dollar funding of the state’s “Pre-K Counts” program and the various Headstart initiatives. Those two programs are funded through a series of line items in the state budget.
“Both of these funding streams are used by the School District of Philadelphia and by hundreds of school districts throughout the state, and many other districts use their own money for these programs,” Clash said. “Momentum continues to grow, but the problem is that only 17 percent of all Pennsylvanian three- and four-year-olds receive publicly-funded, high-quality Pre-K programming.
“And in Philadelphia, it’s a huge, unmet need, since 3,100 kids are at the poverty line do not have access to pre-K programs because they are on a wait list,” Clash continued. “So this report makes the case of why law enforcement is so concerned about getting access to pre-K young kids. Long-term arrests come down, and behaviorally, the data shows a reduction in early aggressive behavior.”