Times Observer: LTE: Every Child is Worthy
May 20, 2019 by Kenneth Klakamp Warren County Sheriff

People usually think of law enforcement as the guys who put the bad people away for their crimes – and that’s partially true. In my more than four decades in the Warren County Sheriff’s office, I often see people at their lowest points, whether they’re facing a judge in court or being transported to or from the County jail. Sometimes I’m transporting the kids or grandkids of offenders from early in my career.

Offenders who commit crimes deserve to face punishment. But if I had a tool that I could use to keep the kids of Warren County on the right path and keep them out of trouble in the first place, I would do everything in my power to deploy it. That’s why I support high-quality pre-K programs, which help to instill good behavior and social norms and put children on early paths to educational success.

My colleagues in the Pennsylvania Sheriffs’ Association agree and support the need for increased investment in pre-k programs, which provide an average “profit” to society of up to $27,000 for every child served. That means that the $50 million in increased funding proposed for the Pre-K Counts and Head Start State Supplemental Assistance Programs in the 2019-20 state budget could end up saving Pennsylvania nearly $150 million in societal benefits over these preschoolers’ lifetimes.

Simply put, every person diverted from criminal activity saves society money and, more importantly, makes our communities safer.

Some children don’t get the emotional support and attention at home that they need to become good citizens. A high-quality pre-k program helps meet that need for positive affirmation and attention, while also supporting parents in developing appropriate skills.

While Pennsylvania spends about $43,000 per prison inmate, we spend three times less on public school students and five times less on pre-K students. Investing in these kids when they’re young – and when we have a chance to curb some of this negative behavior – would significantly cut the $3.2 billion Pennsylvania spends every year on state and local incarceration. While those of us in law enforcement are tough on crime, we recognize that fewer people filing through the criminal justice system frees up resources that are better spent on schools, job creation, and economic growth.

Every child is worthy. They are our greatest asset and our future leaders, but if we aren’t giving them a chance, then we – as a community – don’t get a chance to thrive. We must make these investments now to improve our society for the future.

We have a choice to make, and it comes down to dollars and common sense. If we invest in our children today, we will pay far less for the costs of crime and lack of educational successes in the years to come. We’ve all heard the saying, be “smart on crime.” Let’s put that saying into action here in Pennsylvania and make the smart investment in pre-k.