JACKSON TOWNSHIP, LUZERNE COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU) – State officials who are looking to prevent crime say it takes more than tougher laws and better law enforcement. They believe it requires intervention before children enroll in school. That was the message of a news conference held Thursday at a state prison.
The PA Department of Corrections links crime prevention to early age education.
As Eyewitness News Reporter Mark Hiller explains, the boss of Pennsylvania’s prisons made that point and urged state lawmakers to support a $50 million budget consideration.
“The number one thing that jumps to mind when you talk about this population is education.” Standing outside barbed wire fence at State Corrections Institution Dallas, Pennsylvania Department of Corrections Secretary John Wetzel explained how critical it is to keep children on the ‘straight and narrow’ by following the path of knowledge. “Poor kids and children of color who drop out of school have a high likelihood of ending up incarcerated,” he said.
Thursday’s news conference came amid a new report from the anti-crime organization “Fight Crime: Invest in Kids”. It claims by investing $50 million to expand high-quality pre-kindergarten programs, high school graduation rates will increase, the number of Pennsylvania inmates will decrease and the Commonwealth will save nearly $150 million in corrections and other costs. “It’s much greater than investing in the child. You’re actually investing in the whole community when you support early childhood education,” said Ingrid Everett, M.Ed. from Bloomsburg University.
Law enforcment supporters say without the added pre-k funding, we’re risking more than kids failing to keep pace with their peers. Luzerne County District Attorney Stefanie Salavantis said, “They can also have problems with behavior and impulse control which makes it hard to get along with other kids and teachers and can lead to later delinquency and crime.”
There are some 2,100 inmates at SCI Dallas including some who’ve only had elementary school education. Superintendent Kevin Ransom says he sees the difference education can make on these men who are required to cycle through the GED program. “It’s humbling for them and for their family, the family that’s not here with them.”
Republican Senator Lisa Baker (R-20th, Luzerne, Pike, Susquehanna, Wayne, Wyoming Counties) chairs the State Senate Judiciary Committee and says she’ll work with her democratic counterparts in Harrisburg on the $50 million measure. “It’s a voice that I intend to take with me and my hope is that we can maintain as much of that funding level as possible.”
Sen. Baker says she and fellow lawmakers will begin next month putting together the final pieces of the fiscal budget. The new fiscal years begins July 1. Secy. Wetzel says 40 percent of Pennsylvania’s prison population, or 20,000 inmates, do not have a high school diploma.
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