Investing in Early Childhood Education is the Best Way to Address Crime

Factual or not, there is a perception that crime in San Jose is on the rise. At the very least our murder rate has increased the last two years, and many of my friends and colleagues say they avoid going to downtown due to the perceived threats to their personal safety.

At the same time, California’s prisons are under a U.S. Supreme Court order to reduce the number of those incarcerated due to unsafe and unsanitary conditions. Since 2006, California has reduced its inmate population in the state’s 33 prisons by more than 43,000. But, according to federal courts, there is still overcrowding today. The U.S. Supreme Court has ordered Gov. Jerry Brown to reduce the state’s inmate population by an additional 10,000 by the end of this year. Brown is fighting this order.

And yet, none of this addresses the root of the problems.

Our safety, both physically and economically, is enhanced through education results, especially before kindergarten. High quality early childhood education is the most cost-effective and researched-based solution to crime.

It’s sad and pathetic that the US has the highest incarceration rate in the world, while being one of its wealthiest nations. Americans make up 5 percent of the world’s population, yet incarcerated Americans make up almost 25 percent of the world’s inmates. There are 2.3 million American prisoners today. Each prisoner costs society an average of $24,000 annually. In total, the estimated cost of American incarceration is more than $60 billion per year, not to mention the tens of billions in court costs.

Crime can be reduced significantly if we invest wisely in early education. This investment today can save us all billions of dollars in reduced incarceration and court costs, while increasing economic development, safety and reducing crime. National organization “Fight Crime: Invest in Kids” is an anti-crime organization of more than 5,000 police chiefs, sheriffs, prosecutors and violence survivors who advocate for quality early childhood education programs.

A study in Chicago, published in 2011 after 25 years of research, documents the results of Child-Parent Center Education. The study demonstrated that these early childhood programs reduce crime when those children become teenagers and adults. According to an article in Science magazine, the Chicago study results demonstrate “consistent and enduring” benefits for children who began preschool at age 3 or 4, when compared to children who started kindergarten without quality preschool.

By age 28, particularly for males and students who had parents that were high school dropouts, the study results are dramatic. The former Child-Parent Center Education Preschool students had higher education levels and incomes, and lower substance abuse and criminal records.

As adults, those without the preschool experience were 27 percent more likely to have been arrested for a felony and 39 percent more likely to have been incarcerated. Those same adults were 39 percent more likely to suffer from drug and alcohol abuse. Those with high quality preschool experience earned more money and were 21 percent more likely to graduate high school.

Many things are converging now to enhance the argument for quality early childhood education. The federally funded Race To The Top Early Learning Challenge Grant includes Santa Clara, Alameda, Contra Costa, San Francisco and Santa Cruz. President Obama and Secretary Duncan have made quality ECE a top priority in their advocacy for reducing poverty. The ad hoc committee convened by members of the SCCOE Board of Trustees brings together community leaders interested in high quality preschool education for all.

And the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, the SCCOE and Superintendent John Porter have led the effort for the Educare Center—the first in California—that will soon break ground in the Franklin-McKinley School District. The county also has an advocate in Supervisor Joe Simitian, who as a state legislator had a huge footprint in the work for transitional kindergarten.

We cannot afford to lose momentum when working on behalf of children with no voice; children who need adults to step up and provide a cost-effective path to success. We all will benefit with reduced crime and economic growth.

Joseph Di Salvo is a member of the Santa Clara County Office of Education’s Board of Trustees. He is a San Jose native.

Joseph Di Salvo is a member of the Santa Clara County Office of Education’s Board of Trustees. He is a San Jose native. His columns reflect his personal opinion.


  1. Teach them life and special skills so that when they graduate they can easily assimilate as a more valuable member of society. Maybe if they graduated knowing how to apply for jobs or handle money or have a special skill or drive or take care of themselves, they will be less likely to look for the easy way out, as in crime. Who needs to know ANYTHING about polynomials or Z-factors, in high school? Just what do you do with them in real life? The curriculum needs to be changed so that they are taught life skills in place of the teachings that they can do nothing with. If they need higher math for a certain career, let them get that higher math as a core course in college. Teach them what they need to survive in life and let them decide what higher courses they need for their particular career, in college. If you teach them how to understand life, better, just maybe you will turn out a more productive citizen instead of some who don’t know what to do with themselves once they graduate.

  2. I must be turning Republican, but I think the government needs to stop raising other people’s children.

    What’s missing in the discussion is those caring nurturing folks that now pay for all that early childhood education.  Right now it’s mostly parents.  When the government gets involved in providing those educational services, the outcome for those children will not be any better that the educational services that the government currently provides to the disadvantaged.

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