Anti-crime benefits of pre-K are another good rationale for broad public support for pre-K

Another important spillover benefit of high-quality pre-K is the effect of these programs on lowering subsequent crime rates of participants. As discussed in my new book, From Preschool to Prosperity, these anti-crime effects provide broad public benefits by reducing the odds of becoming a crime victim, and by lowering prison costs.

Benefit-cost studies of both the Perry Preschool Program and the Chicago Child-Parent Center pre-K program have found significant anti-crime benefits. When economists put a dollar value on these anti-crime benefits (that is, when they add up the reduced criminal justice system costs plus how much people are willing to pay to reduce their odds of being victimized by crime), the results frequently show that anti-crime benefits are of similar order of magnitude to the future earnings benefits of pre-K.

Although I think anti-crime benefits are important, and appeal to some audiences, I think it is important to also emphasize positive benefits such as the broad increase in wages and prosperity due to broad access to quality pre-K. A focus on anti-crime benefits always runs the risk among some voters of stigmatizing the disadvantaged, which may reduce voter sympathy and support for educational and other programs to help the disadvantaged. This emotional reaction may not make rational sense, but there is a natural human reaction among some people to respond to threats of violence with solutions that rely on retribution and punishment.

However, from a rational analytic perspective, high-quality pre-K can be a cost-effective way of reducing the costs of crime. These anti-crime benefits of pre-K are why lobby groups such as “Fight Crime: Invest in Kids” have found broad support among police chiefs and sheriffs for crime prevention via early childhood education.

About timbartik

Tim Bartik is a senior economist at the Upjohn Institute for Employment Research, a non-profit and non-partisan research organization in Kalamazoo, Michigan. His research specializes in state and local economic development policies and local labor markets.
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