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Guest View: Communities, public safety can't wait for budget

Guest View: Communities, public safety can't wait for budget

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In April, I joined with prosecutors, police chiefs and sheriffs from throughout Illinois to meet with the governor and legislative leaders in Springfield. Our message was pretty straightforward — investing in evidence-based programs for kids will cut crime. But the budget impasse has curtailed these programs, and we’re concerned kids, communities, and taxpayers will pay the price.

Those of us in law enforcement see how children who are abused and neglected then end up behind in school, move on to juvenile delinquency, and finally end up across from us in criminal court.

We see this vicious cycle repeated far too often.

This cycle costs taxpayers tremendously. State taxpayers spend about $1.3 billion annually on arrest, prosecution and incarceration.

The good news is that we know what we need to do to break this cycle. Investing in at-risk young children, youth and their families make it more likely they will enter school ready to learn, do better in school, graduate from high school, and be gainfully employed, while avoiding juvenile crime and violence.

I sincerely wish that I could report that our state leaders exuded optimism that they would adjourn in a few weeks with a comprehensive budget agreement.

However, we left Springfield concerned about just the opposite.

For months now, we've seen the growing and alarming impact of the lack of a state budget. Hundreds of nonprofit agencies across Illinois have been forced to cut back significantly on staffing and important services, and many have already closed their doors.

Included are many programs that law enforcement leaders consider key to protecting public safety.

Redeploy Illinois, which has proven to be far more effective than juvenile prison in cutting recidivism with our juvenile offenders at a fraction of the cost, has seen 24 counties drop out of the program entirely.

Without a full-year budget, we’ll see 15,000 at-risk youths lose access to Teen REACH after-school programs which provide safe and educational alternatives to the streets.

Nearly 30 percent fewer pregnant women and families with young children are receiving voluntary home visiting services, which reduce child abuse and neglect and boost other health outcomes.

Child care assistance helps working families pay for child care, but reduced eligibility has cut tens of thousands of children from the program. These cuts forced many parents to make some unfortunate decisions — quit their jobs or place their children in less than ideal child care while they are at work.

Even programs that have been spared cutbacks during the impasse are now suffering the consequences. State-funded preschool providers have seen significant increases in support over the last two years. However, long payment delays from the state are destabilizing preschool programs (like the Williamson County Early Childhood Cooperative we read about on these pages last week), prompting some to consider shutting-down and displacing young learners.

As the clock winds down on another legislative session, I strongly urge our state leaders to set aside their political differences for another day and do what’s needed to pass a comprehensive fully funded budget. Our communities and public safety can wait no longer.

Tyler R. Edmonds is the Union County State’s Attorney.

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