A coalition of law enforcement officials on Thursday is formally throwing its support behind a proposed federal-state partnership designed to increase access to early childhood education.
Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood, Kern County District Attorney Lisa Green and Bakersfield Chief of Police Greg Williamson are scheduled to discuss the role investing in early education plays in reducing crime at a news conference Thursday in Bakersfield.
"Many people who are locked up in California started off on the wrong path when they were very young," Youngblood said ahead of the news conference. "By reaching children in their earliest years through high-quality early education and care, we can set them on a path to success and reduce crime for years to come."
Thursday's event is organized by Fight Crime: Invest in Kids, a national, bipartisan nonprofit anti-crime organization made up of attorneys, law enforcement officials and violence survivors.
The organization is releasing a 16-page report on the issue in the aftermath of President Obama's State of the Union address, which called for increased investment in preschool through a Preschool for All initiative.
The U.S. Department of Education would allocate dollars to states based on their share of 4-year olds from low- and moderate-income families. Funds would be distributed to local school districts and other partner providers to implement the program.
The cost of the state-federal partnership will be about $75 billion over 10 years, but that's "a smart move" when you consider that the country spends $75 billion a year to incarcerate more than 2 million criminals, according to the report, "I'm the Guy You Pay Later," a reference to law enforcement officials on the cover.
If the country could reduce the number of people who are incarcerated by 10 percent a year, it could cut the number of individuals who are locked up by 200,000 annually and recoup the cost of the program, according to the report.
California could decrease its prisoner count by more than 13,000 each year and save $1.1 billion annually.
A study in Chicago followed children who participated in high-quality preschool and parent coaching programs and found the preschoolers were 20 percent less likely to be arrested for a felony or imprisoned as young adults than those who did not attend the program, the report said.
In Kern County, 61 percent of prisoners do not have a high school diploma or general education diploma, according to the Kern County Sheriff's Office.
Getting off to a good start increases high school graduation rates and ultimately reduces crime, said Brian Lee, deputy director of Fight Crime's California office in San Francisco.
"It's a long-term solution," he said in an interview Tuesday.
States know it works, but they've been hampered by budget limitations, Lee said, adding that the federal-state partnership could help address those financial concerns.
"Draconian" cuts to education spending in recent years set the state back considerably, Lee said. "In California, 30,000 kids lost access (to preschool). We're still struggling to get back to where we were, let alone meet all of the needs of all the children on the waiting lists."
Kern County lost some capacity for serving children during the economic downturn, according to Community Connection for Child Care, a referral service administered by the Kern County Superintendent of Schools office.
In 2012, the county had 12,561 slots in commercial centers and 8,086 in home-based day cares, compared with 12,580 and 9,292, respectively, in 2010.
There are about 3,500 children in Kern County on waiting lists for subsidized child care.
The recent addition of mandatory transitional kindergarten is helping, said CCCC Executive Director Cheryl Nelson, but it's still too early to know the new program's impact, she said.