If you’ve ever owned a home or motor vehicle it probably didn’t take too much time to learn the value of simple repairs and preventative maintenance.
You can either fix that leak between the chimney and the shingles at the first hint of moisture, or put it off and create new problems with water damage and mold. Or you can have a vehicle serviced at scheduled intervals by a professionally trained and equipped mechanic, or wait until the neglect causes breakdown problems in the engine and drive train.
It might be annoying to spend money earmarked for dinner and a movie on your roof or vehicle, but it’s better than addressing a sudden crisis calling for most of a paycheck, or several paychecks. You save some real money by spending a little up front.
That’s the way it is in fighting crime, too. Crime prevention is far more cost effective than paying for the police, prosecutors, public defenders, court staff, expert witnesses, judges and prisons that are pressed into duty because of crime. We can pay a little now or pay a lot later.
That was the pitch Union County State's Attorney Tyler Edmonds and other crime fighters involved in “Fight Crime: Invest in Kids Illinois” made to state lawmakers during March. The assembled prosecutors, police chiefs and sheriffs expressed concern over continued cuts in early childhood education programs.
As we reported in Tuesday’s newspaper, the money spent early on children may be even more cost effective than speedy repairs and preventative maintenance. Edmonds referred to a preschool study conducted in Michigan that indicated children who didn’t participate in preschool programs were five times more likely to be arrested later in life for drug-related felony crimes and twice as likely to be arrested for violent crimes.
The study contends $17 is saved for every dollar spent on early childhood education. It also adds some scientific verification to what street-smart officers, detectives and experienced prosecutors have long known.
"Anecdotally, we see these things every day. We see these kids abused or neglected and in juvenile court, then in juvenile justice and ultimately in prison," Edmonds said. "We know being educated doesn't stop all crime, but there are a lot of folks that end up starting out from behind and never really recover."
Law enforcement also sees the value of intensive probation services, such as Redeploy Illinois, as an alternative to incarceration. Edmonds said the intensive probation efforts have price tags in the thousands, instead of the tens of thousands needed for incarceration.
The cost is substantial. Illinois devotes more than $1 billion annually to prison expenditures and millions more in prison-related costs that fall outside the budget of the Illinois Department of Corrections, according to a 2010 study by the Vera Institute of Justice. That’s a tremendous financial drain on a state that is attempting to balance its books and pay overdue bills while properly funding schools and higher education.
Money spent on children today is an investment in the future. In addition to urging our lawmakers to avoid further cuts to education, we also urge caution in using the budget knife on early childhood education and intensive probation. The money we spend today on those initiatives will pay dividends in the future.