As a sheriff deeply committed to proven crime-prevention strategies, I share incoming Illinois State Board of Education Superintendent Carmen Ayala’s enthusiasm for funding boosts to early education (“New ISBE superintendent supportive of added education funding,” March 6).
Quality preschool for at-risk kids, which is supported through the Early Childhood Block Grant (ECBG), in study after study has been shown to reduce future crime. An examination of the Chicago Child-Parent Centers found that children not served by the program were 70 percent more likely to be arrested for a violent crime by age 18.
With nearly 100,000 eligible 3- and 4-year-olds in Illinois lacking access to state-funded preschool, that potentially creates a big challenge for law enforcement.
Of course, my deputies and I are dedicated to locking up violent criminals, but legislators have to understand that this comes with a cost: Illinois spends more than $2 billion a year to incarcerate adults in our prisons and jails. Investments now on the front end – such as the proposed increase in the ECBG budget – will cut those expenses on the back end.
Such investments can also achieve important health outcomes for our communities. A portion of the ECBG serves even younger children, ages 0 to 3, through “home visiting.” These voluntary programs, which coach parents of infants and toddlers, have been shown to ameliorate the traumatic experiences that many children face. A 2018 report from Fight Crime: Invest in Kids (an organization of more than 330 Illinois law enforcement officers) demonstrated that the reduction of such adverse childhood experiences serves to decrease the likelihood of opioid abuse and addiction later in life.
As sheriff, I have seen firsthand the benefits of early childhood programs in Lee County. The proposed funding creates a solid foundation for a more healthy and harm-free Illinois.
John Simonton is the Lee County sheriff and a Fight Crime: Invest in Kids executive board member.