Last week, I traveled to Washington, D.C., for an international crime symposium on Capitol Hill, where police chiefs and crime experts examined strategies that work to prevent crime and violence in our communities.
Like a detective solving a mystery, the essence of law enforcement is problem-solving. Solving a crime requires taking a long, hard look at the evidence, working backward from the scene of the crime.
During this event, we applied that same problem-solving approach to the idea of prevention. One strategy that we came back to again and again was the importance of early childhood education in ensuring that the most at-risk children are on track for success to reduce likelihood that a person will end up on the wrong side of the law.
Participating in the crime symposium reaffirmed my belief that early childhood programs such as Head Start, Early Head Start and quality child care are among the most powerful tools available to prevent crime. By giving kids a better start in life through access to quality early education and care, we can help them chart a course for long-term success, not a life of crime.
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High-quality early education has been proven through rigorous research to increase school success and cut crime in the long run. A long-term study of a high-quality preschool program in Michigan found that at-risk children who attended were 44 percent more likely to graduate from high school, compared to those who did not participate, and half as likely to be arrested for a violent crime by age 40.
The benefits of early care and education are transformative and long-lasting for the children who participate. Based on this clear evidence, it is just common sense to invest more in early childhood programs to reduce crime and the toll it inevitably brings to communities affected.
More than 4,500 law enforcement leaders and violence survivors, including 109 in South Carolina, have rallied to the banner of Fight Crime: Invest in Kids, the anti-crime organization that sponsored the event. We believe we need to invest far more in programs that help at-risk kids get the right start in life and prevent crime and violence in the long run.
We now face a tight federal budget during this time of economic distress. Despite that -- or actually because of that -- investment in early education must remain a top priority. Providing high-quality early education will help strengthen our economy by ensuring that more children finish high school and enter the work force. We also benefit from the significant savings to taxpayers by reducing expenses in welfare, incarceration, court and police costs as well as remedial education courses.
We cannot afford to continue to under-fund these key investments in children, because when they fail, we all suffer the consequences. Law enforcement strongly supports early childhood care and education because we know that they will make our communities safer in the long run.