One of the most vexing questions facing our communities involves how best to curb crime and violence. As a career crime-fighter, I know all too well the costs and consequences of failing to address these issues.

Gratefully, years of research and experience point to one clear answer: We can strengthen public safety by strengthening supports for kids’ well-being.

Illinois spends about $2.3 billion annually to house criminals in either prison or jail. But by making smart investments in cost-effective prevention efforts, we instead can prevent some crimes, cut incarceration costs, and reduce other public costs such as special education and grade retention. 

An analysis of over 20 public preschool programs demonstrated that quality pre-K returned an average “profit” to society of $27,000 for every child enrolled (including reduced crime costs). 

Nearly 80,000 Illinois children attend pre-K through our state’s Early Childhood Block Grant, which also supports developmental services for more than 20,000 infants and toddlers. The current state budget proposal – to put additional resources into such early learning programs – would allow us to invest further in access and quality for more of the thousands of preschoolers still lacking help. 

Another critical need in many of our communities is a shortage of the physical space needed to provide quality early childhood education. My law enforcement colleagues and I would like to see that the next state-infrastructure plan, under discussion in Springfield, includes at least $250 million for early childhood facilities, building on a precedent set in the last capital bill.

Giving our young kids a foundation for success, from their earliest years, is one of the best ways to keep young people from dropping-out of school or ending up in our courtrooms. By supporting high-quality early education for kids today, we can ensure a better tomorrow.

Riverside Police Chief Tom Weitzel, co-chair

Fight Crime: Invest in Kids Illinois