By Letters to the Editor  on March 06, 2014

Donald Gilliland’s recent PennLive article (“Rising prison costs spell trouble for Corbett’s signature reform”) details the multiple factors that led to a small state prison population increase last year, instead of the projected decrease. As a law enforcement official, I am tough on crime and believe that prison is necessary to help ensure public safety; however, the considerable challenges cited in the article should remind us of why it is so critical to keep people from ever becoming criminals in the first place.

Compelling long-term scientific research and common sense clearly indicate that investing in high-quality pre-kindergarten programs is a key strategy to help ensure that at-risk children get a good start in life thereby cutting the cycle of crime and incarceration.

Nearly 50 percent of Pennsylvania’s prison population failed to receive a high school diploma. High school dropouts are three and a half times more likely than graduates to be arrested and eight times more likely to be incarcerated.

Long-term studies are clear that pre-kindergarten programs are one of the most effective investments to boost graduation rates. The Chicago Child-Parent Center pre-K program and the High Scope Perry Preschool program increased graduation rates by 29 and 44 percent respectively compared to similar children who were not enrolled.

As a member of the statewide law enforcement leader organization Fight Crime: Invest in Kids, I commend Gov. Corbett for proposing a $10 million increase in the state Pre-K Counts program in next year’s state budget. To help put Pennsylvania on a path to having less state prison inmates, we need to build on this proposal to ensure access to high-quality pre-k for the tens of thousands of 3- and 4-year-olds across the state who are left out every year.

STEPHEN L. MARGESON, Chief, Carlisle Police Department, Carlisle