Get to Know: Fight Crime: Invest in Kids

Mark Shurtleff, Utah Attorney General and Patrick Lynch, Rhode Island Attorney General

Call us the odd couple -- a Republican from Utah and a Democrat from Rhode Island. As Attorneys General, we may differ on some issues, but we do share a common commitment to helping at-risk children get the right start in life. That’s why we are both long-time members of Fight Crime: Invest in Kids, a national, bi-partisan organization devoted to supporting programs proven to be effective at helping at-risk children avoid a life of crime and become productive citizens.

Founded in 1996, Fight Crime: Invest in Kids has grown to include more than 5,000 police chiefs, sheriffs, prosecutors, Attorneys General and crime survivors. Over the years, in state legislatures and the halls of the U.S. Congress, Fight Crime members have become unexpected messengers, informing policy makers that effective investments in children’s programs can help reduce crime and save taxpayer dollars.

Fight Crime members meet face-to-face with their state legislators and representatives in Congress, hold news conferences and release reports on issues of critical importance to children, write letters and commentaries in their local papers and take time to visit with young kids to demonstrate their commitment to at-risk children and programs proven to help them. Both of us have met with our U.S. senators and participated in media efforts over the years on behalf of Fight Crime: Invest in Kids. The staff has made it easy for us to look good.

What are we advocating on behalf of Fight Crime: Invest in Kids? We support a four-part plan that can make a real, positive difference in the lives of at-risk children:

  • Provide families access to high-quality early care and education for kids from birth to age five. A long-term study of the well-respected Perry Preschool program in Michigan showed that individuals who didn’t participate in the preschool program were five times more likely to be chronic lawbreakers by age 27 than those who did.
  • Offer voluntary parent coaching to at-risk parents of young children through home visiting or other options proven to prevent child abuse and neglect. Children of mothers served by the Nurse-Family Partnership, which provides advice and support to at-risk new parents, were half as likely to be abused or neglected early in life. In addition, by age 15, children served by the program were 60 percent less likely to be arrested.
  • Ensure that all school-age youth have access to effective school day and after-school programs to help keep them on the right track. Tested, well-designed programs, like school-wide anti-bullying campaigns, good-behavior classroom games and engaging after-school clubs, help reduce juvenile delinquency and antisocial behavior. A study of Boys and Girls Clubs showed that housing projects without the clubs had 50 percent more vandalism and scored 37 percent worse on a combined measure of drug activity.
  • Identify troubled and delinquent kids and provide them and their parents effective interventions so the children will avoid a life of crime. Research shows that new arrests of youths participating in quality therapy programs have been cut by as much as half when compared to at-risk kids not receiving the same treatment.

While this four-part plan cannot prevent every violent act, the research shows it can help keep many crimes from ever taking place while also saving taxpayer dollars. Crime, as we are well aware, comes with a high price tag. One top criminal expert estimates that a child who eventually drops out of school, abuses drugs and becomes a career criminal costs the public $2.5 million over his or her lifetime.

Multiply that figure by the tens of thousands of young people who are turning to crime instead of productive citizenship and it is clear that preventing crime and reducing the need for costly incarceration will save our nation billions of dollars.

As Attorneys General, we all have a responsibility to keep our communities safe. By supporting programs that give at-risk children the opportunity for a productive life, we are helping to meet that responsibility.

That’s what Fight Crime: Invest in Kids is all about. If you are already a member, thank you. If you are not, please consider joining us. To find out more, please go to www.fightcrime.org.

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