By Richard W. Stanek
Hennepin County Sheriff
Throughout my career in law enforcement, whenever I had to put a juvenile into a squad car, the same questions crossed my mind — can anything be done to change the path this kid is taking? Or is it already too late?
No child is destined at birth to end up in jail. Minnesotans spend almost a half billion dollars each year to house, feed and supervise incarcerated offenders. We can spend our dollars more wisely by investing in early education, a time in a child’s life when we have the biggest opportunity to make a difference. I would much rather see our children outfitted in caps and gowns than jumpsuits and handcuffs.
As Hennepin County Sheriff, I support investing in quality early childhood education programs. I am a committed member of Fight Crime: Invest in Kids; a national, nonpartisan organization of 5,000 police chiefs, sheriffs, prosecutors and leaders in law enforcement. This broad coalition knows that early care and education are highly effective tools for crime prevention. It’s much more expensive to arrest, prosecute and incarcerate than it is to start individuals off on the right path.
Policymakers from across the spectrum are creating and expanding state preschool programs for the simple fact they are a smart investment, and they establish a strong foundation for success. Recently Hennepin County Board of Commissioners voted to allocate $1 million dollars toward scholarships that will help place low-income, at-risk children into high quality early education programs. This initiative is expected to benefit 125 kids by providing them with the opportunity to succeed academically.
Minnesota was among 24 states to either propose or enact additional funding for pre-K and early childhood programs last legislative session. We are on the right track, but more needs to be done.
On a national level, I participated in an event highlighting bipartisan legislation. The Strong Start for America’s Children Act would help create a state-federal partnership for states to build, strengthen, and expand high quality state early education programs.
The bill, aimed at children ages 3-4 in low- to moderate-income families, puts states in the driver’s seat to determine what makes the most sense for implementation in their own jurisdiction — within widely recognized parameters for quality.
Nationally, seven out of 10 inmates in state prisons do not have a high school diploma. It is a staggering statistic that supports my belief that educating kids at a young age is their ticket to success and a better life.
We need a strategy to keep people from turning to crime in the first place and a strong early childhood education is central to that strategy. As taxpayers we have a simple choice to make, we can either invest in early childhood education on the front-end, or eventually you might have to pay guys like me later to keep them in jail.
Stanek is sheriff of Hennepin County.