BANGOR, Maine — Two of Penobscot County’s top law enforcement officials on Tuesday trumpeted a new report that says quality children’s education programs could curb crime and cut costs in the future.
Bangor Police Chief Ron Gastia, Penobscot County Sheriff Glenn Ross and Bangor schools Superintendent Betsy Webb backed the study during an event at the Penquis CAP Head Start Center in Bangor.
The national nonprofit group Fight Crime: Invest in Kids wrote the report, titled “High-Quality Early Care and Education: A Key to Reducing Future Crime in Maine,” which argues that effective childhood education should be an integral part of the overall strategy to reduce crime, lower corrections costs and save taxpayer money.
“Crime may not pay, but like it or not, we do pay for crime,” Ross said.
The sheriff said Maine spends $163 million per year to house, feed and supervise its criminals. That contrasts with the $17.6 million spent on early care and education programs.
“Sadly, a lot of people don’t become better citizens after going to jail or prison,” Ross said. “They just learn how to become a better criminal.”
The key, Gastia, Ross and Webb said, is to influence children early on in life.
“Every educator will tell you that a strong start with a quality education predicts a better future,” Webb said.
“There’s no substitute for tough law enforcement,” Gastia said, “but we must do more to establish and improve programs that prevent at-risk kids from engaging in criminal activity.”
Gastia, Ross and Webb called on Maine’s state and federal lawmakers to support early education efforts and ensure funding to keep the programs going and growing. Representatives from U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud’s and U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe’s offices attended the event.
Maine’s Head Start and public prekindergarten programs serve thousands of young Mainers each year, according to the report.
In 2010-11, 38 percent of Maine’s 4-year-olds attended prekindergarten or Head Start, but 70 percent of Maine children under age 6 need supervision by someone other than their parents because both parents work, the report states.
That makes these programs an ideal place to start the effort to keep youths out of trouble, the law enforcement officials said.
The report cites a long-term study that tracked disadvantaged children who attended high-quality preschool programs at Perry Preschool in Ypsilanti, Mich., as well as students who were left out. Researchers followed the students for nearly 40 years.
At age 27, those who had not been enrolled in the preschool program were five times more likely to be chronic lawbreakers with five or more arrests on their record, the report states. By age 40, those who weren’t in the program were twice as likely to be chronic offenders with 10 or more arrests and 50 percent more likely to have been arrested for violent crimes.
The report cites another study of Chicago’s Child-Parent Centers, which have served more than 100,000 3- and 4-year-olds since 1967. That study found that 18-year-olds who didn’t participate in the program as children were 70 percent more likely to have been arrested for a violent crime. By age 26, they were 27 percent more likely to have been arrested for a felony and 39 percent more likely to have spent time in prison.
“The research backs up what Chief Gastia and I know from our combined more than 60 years of law enforcement experience,” Ross said. “These programs can make a difference in reducing future violent crime and our correctional costs.”
After voicing their support of early childhood efforts to deter crime, Ross and Gastia read to a group of kids enrolled in the Head Start program at the center, an example of some of the potential outreach education that could have an effect on the children.
“One way or another, we pay for at-risk kids,” Gastia said. “Either we pay on the front end, providing them a solid chance to succeed, or we pay a lot more for failure.”