To the Editor,
As sheriff, I am troubled that preschool and afterschool programs are in jeopardy in the state’s budget.
These two programs are not only beneficial for the kids who participate; they can also help us fight crime.
Over the last two years, thousands of children lost preschool when the state cut funding for early childhood education and fell behind on payments to programs. And Teen REACH, the state-funded afterschool program, is facing a drastic cut that almost completely eliminates the program.
My top priority as the Grundy County sheriff is to secure criminal offenders behind bars. But I also know that there are effective strategies we can use to keep kids off the path that leads them to my jail.
Preschool and after-school are two such proven programs that prevent crime; however, I am concerned that Illinois children are being denied these life-changing opportunities.
Preschool starts children on the right track. Researchers found that at-risk kids who did not participate in one high-quality preschool were 70 percent more likely to be arrested by age 18 than similar kids who did attend preschool.
After-school programs continue to keep kids on the right track and stay out of trouble. The prime time for juvenile crime are the after-school hours between 3 and 6 p.m. while parents are still at work. After-school programs provide constructive, supervised environments where older youth can learn new skills, build solid relationships with peers and adult mentors, and get academic help.
Based on my experience and the best available research on crime prevention, I urge Illinois lawmakers to restore and preserve these programs in the state budget.