By Mike Ramon
As a 30-year veteran of law enforcement I have arrested hundreds of people and transported hundreds more to prisons across the country. I’ve noted three areas of commonality shared by the majority of criminals/prisoners:
- lack of education
- limited ability to communicate effectively (often resulting in frustration, criminal activity and acts of violence)
- inability to think through consequences of their actions.
I see parents pass these things on to their children generation after generation. It makes sense that crime would be reduced if a pathway was provided for children and families to avoid these things before children are off on a trajectory toward poverty and crime.
Enter Parents as Teachers, quite possibly the most cost-effective crime-fighting tool available to the American criminal justice system. Because its approach is so comparably inexpensive, I estimate more than 100 children and their families can receive Parents as Teachers services for a year at a cost equivalent to the housing of a single prisoner for the same amount of time.
I’m not the only one making this connection. University of Chicago Professor James Heckman told Missouri business leaders, “Early interventions promote schooling, reduce crime, foster workforce productivity and reduce teenage pregnancy.” He should know. His work received the 2000 Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences.
Wilder Research, has actually put a dollar figure on these benefits for Michigan: “Because those in early childhood programs do better in school, they are less likely to get in trouble with the law…and that crime reduction meant a $259 million reduction in losses,” Paul Anton said in this news story.
Being “pro-active” is the goal in law enforcement circles. It means officers are looking at ways to anticipate and solve problems before they occur. Parents as Teachers is the ultimate pro-active choice because it changes the trajectory of a potentially criminal lifestyle to one that is prosocial, effectively eliminating crime before it occurs.
If reducing crime is a bonafide goal of our society, programs such as Parents as Teachers need to be encouraged and expanded.
(Mike Ramon retired as Deputy Director with the U.S. Marshals Service after a 30-year career in law enforcement. He is currently working on his doctorate, focusing environmental impacts during early childhood that predispose children to violence and crime.)