Fighting crime by raising standards

It’s the nature of a prosecutor’s job to speak for victims after they’ve been victimized. As a public safety official, however, it’s also my duty to reduce and prevent crime whenever and wherever possible. That’s why I traveled to Washington, DC last week to urge Congress to fund what I believe could be a tremendously effective crime prevention program.

It’s not a computerized offender database or a high-tech surveillance system. It’s quality pre-kindergarten education for every child in America.

As district attorney, I’ve been asked what can be done to reduce youth violence. So have my colleagues across the nation. More than 70 percent of law enforcement professionals posed that question by a nationwide anticrime group said that providing quality early education and after-school programs is the most effective strategy for reducing youth violence because it’s the most effective way to prepare young people for high school, college and beyond.

In fact, we believe early education is so effective that the National District Attorneys’ Association, the National Association of Attorneys General and the International Association of Chiefs of Police have all endorsed it as a crime prevention tool. Those endorsements are borne out by a new study that shows a strong correlation between high school drop-out rates and rates of violent crime.

Every experienced prosecutor and police officer knows what the statistics have verified. The percentage of criminal offenders with interrupted educations isn’t just a majority—it’s an overwhelming majority.

Without a basic education, it’s nearly impossible for people to acquire good jobs or move on to college. Instead, they hit the streets and move on to correctional facilities. Studies suggest that we could prevent more than three dozen murders and 3,700 assaults each year alone if we could just raise our statewide graduation rate by 10 percent.

Nationwide, an estimated three out of ten high school students fail to graduate school on time. For many demographic groups, the numbers are much worse. With numbers like these, we’re not looking at just a dropout rate. We’re looking at a crisis with serious public safety implications.

Too many times I’ve seen young people fail or drop out of school only to end up behind bars. This cycle has to be stopped. By funding quality early education today, we’re making our cities, our states and our nation safer tomorrow.

Daniel F. Conley
Suffolk County District Attorney

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