Last week the State of California achieved perfect synchronicity in its public policy making when it announced that criminals would be released early because the state could no longer afford to keep them incarcerated.
This news reminded me that when I began my work as a guardian ad Litem there were states predicting the need for prison expansion based on the number of failed third grade reading scores within its schools.

Instead of investing in reading for third graders (and early childhood education), California began investing in a third strike punishment model and building tens of thousands of prison beds.

Today, crime, courts, and incarceration are the largest piece of California’s state budget. The prison lobby is the largest lobby in the state, and California recidivism is above 70% (the highest in the world?)

The state now has the dubious distinction of spending more on prisons than on education and one of the highest violent crime rates in the nation

Former MN Chief Justice Kathleen Blatz and Marion Writght Edleman (Children’s Defense Fund Founder) have pointed out that almost all the youth in our juvenile justice system have come through chiild protection services and the vast majority of adults in the criminal justice system are graduates of our juvenile justice system.

California now has a perfect prison feeder system.

Nationwide, about 25% of America’s youth are being tried in adult courts today. Once these youth are treated as adults in our court systems, they rarely leave the system. Juveniles are more likely to be raped and brutalized, and suicidal, than adults within the system (they are just more vulnerable).

California’s great investment in its criminal justice system has ruined tens of thousands of lives and paid very poor dividends to its citizens. It is horribly expensive, almost all the inmates recommit crimes within three years, and now they are letting the inmates out quickly because they are out of money to feed and house felons (let them rob and steal for their dinner).

The math is pretty straightforward:

X years and Y dollars of early childhood education/programs = children that can go to school and learn to read* graduate and build a meaningful life within our community. They go on to have jobs, raise normal families, and lead meaningful lives, versus

Spending those same dollars on prisons and punishment that has bought us recidivism, astronomical crime costs (1.5 to 2 trillion dollars annually) failed schools, and a persistent fear of walking home in our neighborhoods at night. What does forty years of social services and incarceration cost a community? What is the value of a healthy productive citizen?

This cycle will not be broken overnight. We will have to invest in programs that make children ready for school (it is a proven solid investment) and ready for life.

Our thirty year spree of “the floggings will continue until the Morale improves” policy making model has created more felons and mentally unhealthy people than any other nation in the world.

Are we able to change the direction of our public policies so that thirty years from now, all children will be valued as potential citizens and given access to health and education that are critical to participating in their community?

Minnesota has just experienced three consecutive years of double digit prison (investment) growth. Hennepin county arrested 44% of its black adult male population in 2001. Nationally, 13% of Black men can’t vote because they are felons. The racial disparity is clear to some of us.

After 12 active years in the County Child Protection system, I can testify that early childhood programs work as a deterent to crime and as a fiscally responsible means of running a county (or a state).

All children want to be happy creative beings. It is human nature. We can either facilitate this, and save tons of lives and money, or continue to build more crime and prisons and let our prisoners out early when we run out of money.

Support our effort to positively redefine the lives of at risk children, join our grassroots efforts and join one of the action / discussion groups you see on this website.   Make a difference in your community.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      Tell us your story, comment, or perspective.  Think of someone you would like to send this to? Press the “share this” button below.