WATERLOO, Iowa - Pay some nowor pay a lot more later, that was a message top law enforcement office in Black Hawk County had for the public Tuesday. And the topic wasn't necessarily one you'd expect as a priority for law enforcement.
It was an endorsement of federal administration plans to invest $75 billion, over ten years, in early childhood education.
The national organization "Fight Crime: Invest in Kids" has lined up support from law enforcement to push for more preschool funding. In a report released at a Waterloo news conference, leaders noted that more preschool opportunities early in life might cut Iowa's prison population by as much as 800. And they estimated that could save state taxpayers as much as $39 million a year.
The group has lined up nearly 150 prosecutors, sheriffs and police chiefs around the state to push for more early education now and less incarceration later. Black Hawk County Attorney Tom Ferguson and Sheriff Tony Thompson appeared at the news conference to lend support.
Sheriff Thompson said he's seen the impact of poor education during his law enforcement career. He said 17 percent of prisoners in Iowa don't have a high school degree. That's actually better than the national average which is seven out of ten with a high school diploma.
"These are troubling statistics, but I see the human toll every day as the people who come through our doors can barely read, barely write," Sheriff Thompson said adding "so we see all too often how demonstrated it is that a lack of education leads to a life of crime."
Sheriff Thompson said steering people away from crime, by getting them educational opportunities early, can save taxpayers a bundle down the road
Natasha O'Dell Archer, national director of Fight Crime: Invest in Kids, said different studies in different cities and states have followed kids from preschool age until later in life. And there is evidence more education early results in fewer people getting in legal trouble as they get older.
Archer said Iowa was not one of 25 states that made positive changes with more preschool funding last year. However, she admitted that Iowa is already one of the top states in terms of preschool numbers. In 2012, 52 percent of four-year-olds were involved in preschool programs.
However Archer added that 52 percent is not enough and she hopes a push from a law enforcement is a way to reach more people with the message that preschool funding now pays big dividends later.
Archer also said that the $75 billion federal-state preschool plan over ten years is almost the same amount that the nation spends every year to keep law breakers behind bars.