Fighting crime before it's committed

Research shows that children who get an early start in life with a good education are more likely to become law-abiding adults.

So a campaign by law enforcement and school officials in the region and around the nation to support early education programs makes good sense on several fronts.

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The “Fight Crime: Invest in Kids” campaign — which seeks to push for more federal funding, and promote early learning as a critical crime-fighting fighting tool — took District Attorney Seth Williams to Penn Alexander School Tuesday. The top prosecutor read to a Head Start program.

Prosecutors like Williams are recognizing that a lock-’em-up strategy needs a new approach by targeting funds to programs like early education that steer kids on the right track.

Can funding be boosted for early-childhood programs as a crime-stopping strategy?

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For example, a Michigan study found that at-risk children who didn’t attend a quality preschool were fives more likely to become serial offenders by age 27. A similar study in Chicago found that at-risk children were 70 percent more likely to be arrested for a violent crime by age 18.

Preschool also helps to bridge achievement gaps and can lead to significant academic gains among poor children. It also teaches children essential social skills and how to resolve conflict.

Yet, only half of children across the country get an early education. Congress and states, which spend millions to incarcerate prisoners, should make adequate funding a priority.

In Pennsylvania, only 17 percent of three- and four-year-olds are enrolled in publicly funded preschool programs. And in Philadelphia — where too many students lag academically — more than 3,000 low-income city children remain on preschool waiting lists.

Gov. Corbett and lawmakers in Harrisburg can change that picture by increasing funding for early learning programs.

The alternative is clear: Pay now or later. Pennsylvania spends some $2.3 billion annually on corrections, and $340 million on early childhood programs.

The math should be simple.

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