Detroit — During his 40 years in law enforcement, Wayne County Sheriff Benny Napoleon said he has seen several "tough on crime" initiatives — and, he said, none of them has worked.
"We've tried everything, and my jails are still bursting at the seams," Napoleon said. "It's time to realize we can't arrest and prosecute our way out of this problem."
Napoleon joined other law enforcement officials last week to discuss the findings of a new study that suggests investing in early childhood education could save taxpayers millions by steering kids away from crime.
Jose Diaz of the Amherst H. Wilder Foundation, who conducted the study, "Cost Savings of School Readiness Per Additional At-Risk Child in Detroit and Michigan," said its findings quantify what most people know.
"Kids having a good education reduces the chance of them getting off track, but this study shows the actual cost savings of investing in early education," Diaz said.
The study, commissioned by the Max M. & Marjorie S. Fisher Foundation and released Wednesday, found taxpayers in Detroit likely would save $96,000 for each child who was enrolled in a quality early education program, while Michigan taxpayers would save $47,000 for each child.
That figure was derived from tallying cost savings to special education, child care subsidies, public assistance, the criminal justice system and crime victims, among other factors. Most of the savings would be from the criminal justice system, the study found.
"Investing in early education makes economic sense in a tangible way," Diaz said, adding kids who are prepared for kindergarten are better-equipped for success in life, preventing the need for public spending in the educational, social services and criminal justice systems.
Diaz and the law enforcement officials called on the Legislature to invest more money in early childhood education to help stem a stubbornly high crime rate in the state's largest city.
Detroit Police Cmdr. Todd Bettison said addressing social issues that lead to criminal activity is better than building more prisons.
"Everyone wants to get tough on crime, and build more jails and prisons, but getting to the root causes of crime is getting tough on crime," he said.
Napoleon agreed. "In this state, only 4 percent of the prisoners under the age of 20 have a high school diploma," he said. "I get people in the jail that can't spell the name of the street they live on. Some of them can't spell their mother's name.
"We're all winners when we can see our kids in a cap and gown instead of an orange jumpsuit."