Law officers push for preschool as crime prevention tool

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) Kern County's top law officers are joining a push for more early childhood programs as a tool to reduce crime.

"Fight Crime: Invest in Kids" is a nationwide effort, and backers say they have the studies to prove their proposals will pay off in safer communities and lower costs.

"We're here today to talk about some of the outcomes, some of the importance of fighting crime and investing in kids," Bakersfield Police Chief Greg Williamson said. Thursday he was among the group at a preschool on Ming Avenue.

The organization behind the effort says the local officers are among more than 1,000 nationwide who've signed a letter urging Congress to enact the proposal that would provide more pre-schools for low- and moderate-income families. They also want to see expanded early childhood development programs for kids from birth to age three, and voluntary home visiting programs.

The group's materials were handed out in a brochure titled "I'm the Guy You Pay Later," with Sheriff Donny Youngblood's picture on the front. The idea is, it costs more to pay for locking criminals up. The same money would be better spent steering kids away from crime at an early age.

Supporters of the plan say studies show kids in pre-school have a better chance of graduating from high school, and high school grads have a better chance of staying away from crime.

"Quality pre-schools and early childhood programs have been proven to be successful," Kern County District Attorney Lisa Green said. "And that levels the playing field for these kids, so they can have a successful start in school."

The group points to a study from Chicago's Child-Parent Centers. They say it found kids in that program were "20 percent less likely to be arrested for a felony or be incarcerated as young adults than those who did not attend."

They also argue kids are more likely to graduate from high school if they go to pre-school, and kids with a high school diploma less likely to end up committing crimes. Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood says local stats bear that out. "In Kern County alone, if you look at the inmate population, 61 percent of those inmates do not have a high school education," Youngblood said. "Their chances of being successful are really minimized."

Backers frame their argument as a "fork in the road." They say stats show the choices are 2 million people in prison at a cost of $75 billion each year. Or an additional 2 million high school graduates, at a cost of $75 billion over ten years for pre-school.

Organization spokeswoman Meghan Moroney says the proposal is part of the Administration's spending plan, and it will take lawmaker approval. The group is trying to drum up support.

"No child is destined at birth to end up in jail," Chief Williamson said. "We'd much rather see kids in caps and gowns than handcuffs and jumpsuits."

And Youngblood echoed that. "It's our obligation to invest money and time into helping these children become good citizens, because they're our future," he said.

And, the group said their proposal will result in financial benefits, too. "An investment in early childhood education, that's one-tenth of what we spend on incarceration today," Williamson said. "Thirteen thousand fewer inmates, and $1.1 billion dollars in cost savings to our state every year."