One of the documented benefits associated with high-quality early education is a reduction in crime. Children who participated in high-quality programs, research shows, are less likely to be arrested or incarcerated later in life, according to landmark longitudinal research on the effects of high-quality early education on low-income children. That’s why police chiefs, sheriffs and district attorneys around the country are interested in early education. Economist Tim Bartik of the Upjohn Institute estimates $2 to $11 in crime-related cost savings from every dollar invested in high-quality early education.
So we read with interest a recent Boston Globe column by Gareth Cook that describes researcher Richard Tremblay, who began his “crime-fighting career” working in prisons. Too late, Tremblay realized. So he started working with juvenile delinquents. Still too late.
“So Tremblay switched to kindergartners,” Cook writes. He developed a program for young children and their families that proved effective “in steering its charges away from the path to violence,” Cook continues. “Yet even with the success, Tremblay came to believe that kindergarten was still not early enough. And so he has begun looking for ways to start violence prevention at birth – or even before.” Part of the answer, Cook writes, is to find ways to strengthen families, including home visiting, to support parents of infants and young children – and expectant mothers. Family engagement, we add, is also an ingredient of high-quality early education and care.
“It’s a strange impulse – to see the spark of crime in babies – but Tremblay is part of small group of scholars whose ideas deserve a wider hearing,” Cook continues. “Crime is of course a complex social problem. But crime can also be seen as a mental-health problem. And scientists are now uncovering the conditions in the brain that give crime fertile ground. Much of the evidence points to damage in the brain’s emotional circuits, most likely in the first years of life.”