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Wyandotte County law enforcement officials push for early childhood education

Updated: 2013-09-20T04:08:26Z

By TONY RIZZO

The Kansas City Star

Wyandotte County Sheriff Don Ash doesn’t want to meet your children or grandchildren.

It’s nothing personal. He just prefers that they don’t end up in the county jail.

That’s why Ash joined other law enforcement officials Thursday to push for investment in early childhood education as a way to cut crime and the costs of incarcerating criminals.

During a news conference at the Wyandotte County Jail, local officials released a national report detailing the link between quality early childhood education and crime reduction.

“My jail is filled with criminals who have been on the wrong path since a very young age,” Ash said. “It’s not too difficult to connect the dots when it comes to academic failure and criminal activity.”

According to the report from the nonprofit organization Fight Crime: Invest in Kids, adoption of a proposed national early education program for children from low- and moderate-income families could save Kansas $35 million a year in incarceration costs.

The report cites data from long-term studies that found children involved in such programs were more likely to graduate from high school and less likely to be incarcerated.

Ash noted that nearly 70 percent of inmates booked into the Wyandotte County Jail this year did not have a high school diploma.

He was joined at Thursday’s news conference by Wyandotte County District Attorney Jerry Gorman and jail administrator Jeffrey Fewell.

“These programs are fiscally smart,” Gorman said.

They endorsed a proposal from the Obama administration to spend $75 billion over 10 years for a high-quality state-federal government program. They noted that is the same amount spent every year to incarcerate the country’s inmates.

“It’s said that crime doesn’t pay, but we all end up paying for crime,” Fewell said.

They noted that although there are early childhood programs in place in Wyandotte County, not enough people are served by them.

“We have some resources, we just don’t have enough,” Ash said.

Along with the release of the report Thursday, more than 1,000 law enforcement officials from around the country signed a letter asking Congress to support the proposal.

“We feel very passionately about this,” Ash said.

To reach Tony Rizzo, call 816-234-4435 or send email to trizzo@kcstar.com.

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