October 29, 2009 - pay me now or pay me later
Nationally, more than 2.3 million adults are in American jails or prisons -- more than one in every 100 adults. That costs taxpayers $50 billion a year.
Today, Colorado incarcerates some 38,273 people at an average annual cost of $27,000 per inmate.
So here's the question: would you like to save money? Would you like to reduce crime? Would you like to find a way to turn people away from imprisonment, and toward productive lives?
Have I got a deal for you.
Recently I read a report (available from www.fightcrime.org) that makes this claim: "quality early learning can save $190 million a year on corrections costs in Colorado."
There are now a number of studies that prove what already makes perfect sense: investing in a child's brain makes a difference. Oft-cited is the High/Scope Perry Preschool Program study. It compared two groups of at-risk 3- and 4-year olds. "The study found that by age 40, those who participated were almost twice as likely to have earned an Associate's degree than those left out of the program. The study also found that by age 27, those at-risk kids who had not attended the program were five times more likely to grow up to be chronic law-breakers than those enrolled in the program.
"At age 40, those left out of the Perry Preschool Program were twice as likely to be arrested for violent crimes, four times more likely to be arrested for drug felonies, seven times more likely to be arrested for possession of dangerous drugs, and 85 percent more likely to have been sentenced to prison or jail than those who attended the program."
"High-quality early learning programs" have some distinct characteristics. They require highly-qualified teachers with appropriate compensation, comprehensive and age-appropriate curricula, strong parental involvement ... and all of a sudden, I see that we're also talking about Douglas County Libraries' highly successful children's storytimes.
Across the entire library district, nearly half of our checkouts are children's materials, and most of those are "easy" or picture books. Throughout Douglas County, we offer roughly 10 storytimes a day, all very well-attended.
Reading and being read to, hearing and learning vocabulary, seeing and thinking about social situations and life problems, doing all these while very young, are strategies for becoming both fully human and well-adjusted. Those strategies translate to a life that is intentional, that both meets personal needs and adapts non-destructively to the larger societal environment.
The fightcrime.org report mentions that a year of lockup, at $27,000, is quite a bit more than a year's tuition, room and board at the University of Colorado, at about $18,000 a year.
Or $100 a year at your local library.
See, there's no alternative to having to pay some of your own money to help create a culture, a society, where people thrive. The question is whether you want to spend a little or a lot, whether you would rather invest in freedom or in prison cells. Freedom, it turns out, is not only literally smarter. It's cheaper.
LaRue's Views are his own.