NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


May 1, 1995

Spending on prisons rose faster than any other category of general fund spending in states in 1995. The increasing cost of incarceration and high crime rates are leading some states to act on research that indicates that less costly prevention programs work over time.

A good preschool program can reduce the incidence and severity of criminal behavior in subsequent years among children who participate in them, according to studies. For example:

  • A preschool program reduced the costs of crime by nearly $150,000 per participant over a lifetime, according to Significant Benefits, a 1993 study on the High/Scope Perry Preschool Project in Ypilanti, Mich.
  • After 20 years, participants in High/Scope had fewer arrests than a control group, and they were also five times less likely to have been arrested five or more times.
  • Only 6 percent of the children in another program providing child care and home visits to very poor families became adolescent probation cases, compared to 22 percent in a control group, according to a Syracuse University study.
  • Non-participants committed more robberies, burglaries and physical and sexual assaults, and had 10 times higher juvenile justice system costs per child than participants.
  • Los Angeles County delinquency prevention programs saved $1.40 for every $1 spent, according to a 1984 Vanderbilt University study.

Minnesota, Tennessee, Washington, North Carolina and Pennsylvania are among the states that have significantly increased funding for crime prevention programs, particularly those targeted toward children in populations identified as "at risk" to become criminals -- such as single-parent andlow-income families.

Yet less than 40 percent of poor 3- and 4-year-olds participate in preschool, including Head Start, according to the General Accounting Office and the Head Start Bureau.

Source: Scott Groginsky and Jay Kroshus, "An Ounce of Prevention," State Legislatures, May 1995.


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