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Pre-K supporters say more early education could lead to lower prison numbers

Ellen Abbott
Syracuse Police Chief Frank Fowler reads to children at a day care program held by the Salvation Army.

Research shows a connection between early childhood education and crime. Central New York boosters of universal pre-kindergarten say that should be an important consideration when it comes to funding quality programs.

Syracuse Police Chief Frank Fowler says the statistics logically lead to the conclusion that pre-K prevents crime.

"There’s a direct correlation between those who are involved in pre-K early education systems, and those who graduate from high school," Fowler said. "There’s also a correlation between those who do not graduate from high school to those who are in prison.”

Fowler is a big supporter of Pre-K, and says he often sees that direct link between a lack of education and a life of crime.

Assistant Onondaga County District Attorney Jeremy Cali agreed with the police chief, saying prosecutors see the link between a high school diploma and criminal activity in their office.

“In the special victims bureau we see kids on both sides of the criminal justice system, whether it’s victims or perpetrators, and we definitely recognize that this early education makes a huge difference,” Cali said.

Laurie Black, administrator of Syracuse 20/20, says one thing that Pre-K does is prepare kids for kindergarten.

“Fifty percent of our kids that come in to kindergarten in our city, don’t come in ready," Black said. "So the schools have to get them ready. So investing in high quality early childhood education begins to get at that issue so they can enter kindergarten and be ready to learn, move through the system and graduate on time.”

Fowler says it’s clear early education leads to more kids getting high school diplomas. He says statistics show increases in crimes when graduation rates are lower.

"A school can be a positive learning environment that produce productive environments," Fowler said. "Or if we fail in the beginning, they can be pipelines to our prison systems.”

Long-term evaluations of quality early childhood programs show graduation rates go up as much as 44 percent for those participating in Pre-K. Researchers say a ten percentage point increase in graduation rates translates into decreases in murder and assault rates by 20 percent.

Advocates are lobbying Albany to get a piece of $150 million that’s been earmarked for pre-K programs upstate.

Ellen produces news reports and features related to events that occur in the greater Syracuse area and throughout Onondaga County. Her reports are heard regularly in regional updates in Morning Edition and All Things Considered.