In an effort to boost high school graduation rates and reduce the future prison population, Delaware County district attorneys called on Pennsylvania and federal lawmakers to increase funding for early education programs for at-risk children, according to Cindy Scharr of Delaware County Daily Times.
Delaware County District Attorney Jack Whelan said that Pennsylvania spends $1.9 billion each year to house about 500,000 prison inmates — and that his county alone spends $45 million each year to fund the prison system.
"We can continue with the status quo, which is leading too many people to failure in school, involvement in crime and incarceration at huge cost to Pennsylvania taxpayers," said Whelan, standing in front of the State Correctional Institution in Chester. "Or we can take a different course, leading more kids to success in school, increased high school graduation and savings to taxpayers for years to come."
On October 16th, Whelan joined Montgomery County District Attorney Risa Vetri Ferman, Philadelphia District Attorney R. Seth Williams, Chester County District Attorney Thomas Hogan and Cumberland County District Attorney David J. Freed, President of the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association, who spoke at the event sponsored by Fight Crime: Invest in Kids organization.
Fight Crime: Invest in Kids is an anti-crime organization of over 5,000 police chiefs, sheriffs, prosecutors, and violence survivors. The organization released a report, "I'm The Guy You Pay Later," on October 16th that showed that children who have access to high-quality early education are 20% less likely to end up in prison.
"We know from research and our experience, that inmates in this facility don't land there overnight," said Ferman. "We see kids entering kindergarten without the (skills) they need to survive and get along. Put those dollars into our kids now so we don't end up filling these institutions later."
According to Williams, lawmakers should support President Barack Obama's proposal to spend $75 billion over the next 10 years on early childhood education instead of spending $75 billion every year to house prisoners.
"This report demonstrates that every $100 invested in early childhood education will save us $700 in prison costs here in Pennsylvania," Williams said. "This building behind me is a temple, a testimony of what the failure to invest in education will get you."
A poll of 1,890 law enforcement leaders conducted this summer conducted this summer showed overwhelming support for the federal proposal, which would serve all 3- and 4-year-olds who are living at the 300 percent poverty level.
Governor Tom Corbett and the governors of 24 other states who proposed or signed into law the expansion of preschool funding were praised by the law enforcement officers. The current Pennsylvania State budget includes an increase of $6.4 million for early childhood education.
"Every child deserves a chance," Hogan said. "We all would rather see kids in graduation caps and gowns instead of handcuffs and prison uniforms. It is time to make the better choices now, for the sake of our kids today and for the sake of our communities tomorrow."