ROCKFORD (WREX) — Rockford Police, the Winnebago County State’s Attorney’s Office and local lawmakers helped launch a new initiative to put a focus on early childhood education to prevent crime.
Fight Crime: Invest in Kids Illinois is a statewide, bipartisan organization of over 330 police chiefs, sheriffs, state’s attorneys leaders of law enforcement organizations and survivors of violence.
Rockford law enforcement leaders and lawmakers kicked off the campaign Tuesday at Summerdale Early Learning Center.
Illinois spends more than $2 billion per year incarcerating adults in state prisons and local jails, according to the organization. A report says expanding access to preschool could reduce the number of people incarcerated in the state and the costs associated with it.
“Addressing violent crime in Rockford is my number one priority,” Rockford Police Chief Dan O’Shea said. “Beyond enhanced policing of our streets, we’ve also got to make sure we create a solid foundation for a safer tomorrow. That’s what preschool for these children can do.”
The report cites a longitudinal study of the Chicago Child-Parent Centers, which found that children not served by the program were 70 percent more likely to be arrested for a violent crime by age 18.
According to Fight Crime: Invest in Kids, if Illinois can reach a goal of serving 8 out of 10 of disadvantaged children with full-day preschool, the state could accrue nearly $3 billion in societal benefits over their lifetimes.
The organization identified Winnebago County as a key geographic area to focus the program. An Erikson Institute report named Winnebago County as one of 12 “high-risk” counties in the state due to the number of children living in poverty. According to the report, more than half the at-risk children in the county are not currently being served by preschool, and only 22% of the incoming kindergarteners were assessed as demonstrating full readiness for school.
More than 160 members of Fight Crime: Invest in Kids Illinois sent a letter to Gov. Pritzker and legislative leaders in February, urging a commitment to include at least $250 million for early childhood infrastructure needs in any new capital bill. Members of Fight Crime: Invest in Kids also support the Pritzker’s proposal to increase the Early Childhood Block Grant by $100 million for FY 2020.
Sen. Steve Stadelman (D) Rockford, Rep. Maurice West II (D) Rockford, Chief Dan O’Shea, Winnebago County State’s Attorney Marilyn Hite Ross and Rep. John Cabello (R) Machesney Park read to students at Summerdale Early Learning Center to kick off the initiative.