Budget cuts: Slash now, pay later

While Illinois has been struggling to balance its budget, most efforts still seem to be focused on cutting programs. This tactic often has been pursued past the point of common sense, costing the state money in the long term in order to save money now. These penny wise, pound foolish tactics are now getting push-back not just from the expected liberals and advocates for particular groups, but even the police and other authorities are pointing out the problem.

The group “Fight Crime: Invest in Kids Illinois” is a group of police chiefs, prosecuting attorneys, crime survivors and others interested in reducing crime rates. A recent release from the group advocates spending more on children’s early interventions. The group notes that in 2010, Illinois spent $1.3 billion on corrections but only $342 million on pre-school.

The importance of this discrepancy is that cutting programs for young people does not save money, it merely shifts when we spend money on people – as children educating them, or as adults keeping them in a prison cell. A study of the Perry preschool program in Michigan found that children left out of the program were more likely to become offenders later in life. By age 40, non-participants were 86 percent more likely to have been sentenced to prison.

Students who did not participate in a Chicago pre-kindergarten plan were 70 percent more likely to be imprisoned for a violent crime, according to the Fight Crime in Illinois group.

So, how much does it cost to imprison a person? Illinois is likely to spend on average $2.5 million for every individual who ends up imprisoned by the age of 18, over the course of the individual’s life. It really does seem like spending a little now is the better option than spending a whole lot latter. In fact, savings for Illinois taxpayers have been calculated to be in the realm of hundreds of thousands of dollars per child.

Other benefits to early childhood intervention programs are increased cognitive functioning, better reading comprehension and higher graduation rates. Studies have repeatedly shown that these programs are cost effective and a good investment for the state, not surprising since school graduates earn more, are less likely to get in trouble or need assistance and pay more taxes over the course of their life. One group that particularly benefits from early intervention are children classified as “at-risk.”

Early intervention programs are cost-effective and actually help keep down costs for the state in the future. They help produce better citizens and taxpayers. The bottom line is that for those wanting to save the state money, cutting early


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Mike Davis

About Mike Davis

Mike Davis is a local community organizer for groups such as the Coffee Party and Moveon.org and works with Veterans for Peace on a regular basis.