WATERLOO, Iowa --- Black Hawk County’s top law enforcement official and prosecutor Tuesday voiced support for expanding quality preschool as part of a long-term effort to reduce crime.
Sheriff Tony Thompson and County Attorney Tom Ferguson held a press conference at the Women’s Center for Change to release a report by the organization Fight Crime: Invest in Kids.
The report, “I’m the Guy You Pay Later,” contends that implementation of a proposed state-federal early childhood education initiative could reduce the number of incarcerated Iowans by more than 800 and lead to $39 million in annual cost savings for the state.
Thompson and Ferguson are among more than 1,000 members of the organization nationwide who have signed a letter urging Congress to enact the preschool initiative, proposed by Barack Obama’s administration.
Fight Crime: Invest in Kids includes 150 Iowa law enforcement officials and county prosecutors.
“My job is to do everything to protect the public and reduce crime,” said Thompson. “We can’t just simply prosecute and incarcerate our way out of crime.”
He said education has to be part of the strategy and noted benefits cited in the report by investing in preschool.
“But to make that happen, we have to realize we’re at a fork in the road right now,” said Thompson.
According to the report, a 10-year federal investment in preschool of $75 billion will produce more than two million additional high school graduates nationwide, including more than 19,000 in Iowa.
That same amount of money is spent every year to incarcerate adults in federal and state prisons and local jails across the country.
Ferguson noted that the path toward a high school diploma and away from the criminal system is “charted in a child’s early years.” This is especially true for children coming from low-income families.
“By the time they get to kindergarten, many are behind in literacy and pre-math skills,” he said, in comparison to the children of middle and upper income families.”
The report cites several decades-long studies of children who participated in high quality early childhood education programs. Researchers found higher graduation rates for those students compared to children of a similar background that didn't participate in preschool.
They also found lower crime rates. These students were less likely to end up in jail or prison.
Natasha O’Dell Archer, national director of Fight Crime: Invest in Kids, said as of 2012, Iowa already provides preschool services to 52 percent of 4-year-olds, an increase from 4 percent in 2002.
“Iowa’s doing a great job in pre-K and so what we’re asking for is even more support,” she said.