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Fund preschool now to avoid crime later: officials

Updated: May 30, 2012 8:20AM

At a time when sheriffs, police chiefs and prosecutors are complaining that budget cuts to their offices put public safety at risk, a group of law enforcement officials are calling on the state to increase funding.

For preschools.

Cook County’s sheriff, DuPage County’s state’s attorney and three police chiefs say that if Illinois doesn’t beef up spending for preschools, the state will need far more money to fight and prosecute crime for years to come.

“Either spend the money up front or we are going to spend it later on incarceration, building prisons,” said Rock Island Police Chief Scott Harris.

He and others pointed to a study that concluded that the $55 million the state saved by cutting Illinois-funded preschool programs — and knocking more than 17,000 children out of preschool — will ultimately cost taxpayers $200 million in increased criminal, social service and educational costs.

To support the findings by a nonprofit, anti-crime organization called Fight Crime: Invest in Kids Illinois, they noted a long-term study that found that by the age of 27, at-risk kids who did not attend Perry Preschool in Michigan were five times more likely to be arrested.

“Quality preschool has proven to be effective at helping children succeed in school [and] avoid crime later in life,” said Russ Laine, Algonquin’s police chief and the former president of the International Association of Chiefs of Police. “Cutting preschool programs puts us on a slippery slope towards more school drop outs, and more crime and more violence.”

Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart said all lawmakers have to do is look at the population of the county jail he runs to see the need for such program. Dart said the vast majority of inmates did not have access to programs, including preschools, that serve at-risk youths.

“You know what the results are going to be if you make preschool cuts,” he said.

The officials urged Illinois lawmakers to restore about a third of the cuts to the state’s Preschool for All program that have been made in the past three years, and increase funding of the Early Childhood Block Grant funding by $20 million to $345 million.


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