Citizens Voice: Officials: Pre-K programs key to reducing adult crime
April 19, 2019 by Eric Mark

With their backs against a tall prison wall topped with barbed wire, lawmakers and law enforcement officials on Thursday made the case for pre-Kindergarten education as a key to keeping people out of jail as adults.

The setting was State Correctional Institution-Dallas. The subject was a report just released by the anti-crime group Fight Crime: Invest in Kids. The timing concerned Gov. Tom Wolf’s proposed 2019-20 state budget, which includes a $50 million increase in funding for pre-K programs.

That would be a wise investment, since it could save taxpayers money in the long run by reducing the number of people in the criminal justice system, said Bruce Clash, state director of Fight Crime: Invest in Kids.

It is important to arrest and lock up criminals — but that is just part of the story, Clash said.

“The research is clear that we can be doing so much more,” he said.

The report shows that 62% of 3- and 4-year-old children in Luzerne County do not have access to pre-K education, according to Clash.

That needs to change, since pre-school education can help at-risk children who face many challenges in life, said Luzerne County District Attorney Stefanie Salavantis.

“We can help start them on the right path from the beginning,” she said, noting that children who do not participate in school prior to kindergarten are behind on skills and impulse control from the start.

Hanover Twp. police Chief Albert Walker said pre-K education serves as the start of efforts to “break the generational cycle of crime.”

“We can’t arrest, prosecute and incarcerate our way” out of that cycle, Walker said.

State Corrections Secretary John Wetzel said pre-school education helps put children on the path to stay in school and reach their potential. About 40% of prison inmates did not finish high school, Wetzel said.

Wetzel called on state lawmakers to support the funding increase for pre-school education in the state budget, due by June 30.

“We are asking elected officials to have courage to invest in the next generation,” he said.

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