Guest column: Vote for candidates who support early childhood programs to combat rising crime, prosecutors say – Chicago Tribune

It’s a once-a-decade “redistricting” election year in Illinois, when all 177 General Assembly seats and every congressional office will appear on the November ballot in addition to important statewide posts such as governor.

In the months to come, every candidate will be asked about how to deal with rising crime. Each will have something to say about how best to shore up the safety of communities from Elgin and Aurora to Chicago, Alton and Carbondale.

Kane County State’s Attorney Jamie Mosser (Campaign photo)

With respect, we suggest these conversations are lacking if they fail to include what we’ve found to be an essential tool in efforts to curb crime and violence: wise investments in children’s well-being. A serious discussion about public safety demands that candidates for public office consider and support prevention-oriented initiatives that are shown by research to put kids on a path that leads to success in school and in life, and track away from courtrooms and criminal statistics.

Historically, high-quality preschool, child care and birth-to-3 services have been bipartisan priorities in Springfield and Washington, and should remain so today. They are proven, commonsense answers to the problems of increasing crime. These concerns should serve as a rallying point for candidates and voters alike, even during this time of growing political polarization — and perhaps especially at this time.

Kendall County State’s Attorney Eric Weis (Steve Lord / The Beacon-News)

This is our own experience as prosecutors from different parties in neighboring counties, elected to pursue the same task of taking dangerous criminals off the street and out of commission. In our work, we’ve found that handcuffs, squad cars and jail cells are essential tools, but limited in scope. With them, we can respond to robberies and shootings — but without additional assistance, we can’t act proactively to prevent such trouble. That’s what makes early care and education so crucial, with their considerable ability to bend the trajectory of young lives away from criminal involvement.

One illustration of this comes from the Chicago Child-Parent Centers. In a longitudinal study, youngsters served by this early education program were 70% less likely than nonparticipants to be arrested for a violent crime by the time they turned 18. By age 24, former CPC students were 20% less likely than their control-group peers to have served time behind bars.

To those of us entrusted with the work of charging and prosecuting criminals, these are riveting statistics. They’re also a core reason that we’ve joined 5,000 other prosecutors, sheriffs and police chiefs nationwide in the Fight Crime: Invest in Kids group to help focus greater attention on these vital connections.

Illinois has put such research to good use over the years, often leading the nation in various efforts to extend greater early learning access to young children. Yet resources remain too limited, our birth-to-5 system is too fragmented and the early childhood workforce is too poorly supported for the essential work it performs.

Given these challenges, it’s little surprise that only three out of 10 Illinois kindergarteners enter school fully ready for success by one State Board of Education measure.

Now, though, our state has a blueprint to guide comprehensive improvements, issued by a bipartisan commission after a year of intensive study. It calls for not only greater investments in early care and education, but streamlining of their governance and funding mechanisms — changes to strengthen access, quality and equity in ways that will not only serve more families, and in better ways, but bolster public safety and communities’ quality of life.

So, Illinois doesn’t lack ideas for improvement. But we need to pair those ideas with more of the political will that’s necessary to pursue them. Bipartisan political will is the most powerful kind, and elections represent a timely opportunity to build and add to its momentum.

We urge candidates for office to embrace not only public safety as a top election priority, but the policy tools that make it achievable: high-quality, cost-effective programs that provide young children with a foundation for critical life skills and a better chance of avoiding crime and other life-altering troubles. We similarly encourage voters who are concerned about the future safety of their communities to press candidates on these issues and demand long-term solutions.

Eric Weis, a Republican, is Kendall County state’s attorney. Jamie Mosser, a Democrat, is Kane County state’s attorney.

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August 29, 2022 at 05:15PM

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