The Potluck

Public safety officials push for early ed investments to reduce crime

By: - April 1, 2022 5:58 pm

The Minnesota Capitol. Photo by Max Nesterak/Minnesota Reformer.

Public safety officials urged lawmakers on Friday to boost funding for early childhood and family programs as a crime reduction strategy.

In a joint hearing of the state House early childhood education and criminal justice reform committees, researchers and law enforcement said spending more on child care and parent support programs would benefit the state for decades. Stable childhoods and quality early education are linked to lifelong positive effects on educational attainment, criminal activity, employment and earnings, experts say.

The hearing took place against the backdrop of a statewide child care crisis and rising violent crime rates. Lawmakers have honed in on education and public safety this session, as they debate how — or if — to spend the state’s projected $9.3 billion budget surplus.

“Early childhood care and learning programs impact not just the success of young children, but also the next generation of law enforcement leaders,” said Marissa Adams, Thief River Falls police chief. “These leaders will be set up to fail if Minnesota does not invest in evidence-based programs to reduce crime, by preventing people from coming into contact with the criminal justice system in the first place.”

Trauma and stress are harmful to children’s brain development, which can affect decision-making skills, executive functioning and stress responses through adulthood, said Megan Gunnar, a researcher with the University of Minnesota’s Institute for Child Development.

Efforts to support both children and families can mitigate childhood stressors and boost healthy brain development, Gunnar said. Those include affordable mental health and substance abuse services, programs offering home visits from nurses and social workers, and high-quality child care, especially for kids in at-risk families, she said.

“If we can get these in place, we have the makings of a successful society, which we can build beginning in early childhood,” Gunnar said.

Adams said the state’s rising violent crime rate makes early intervention even more urgent. Spending money now would improve quality of life in the short term and benefit the state’s economy long-term, she said.

“We cannot simply arrest and incarcerate our way out of the problem,” Adams said.

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Rilyn Eischens
Rilyn Eischens

Rilyn Eischens is a former data reporter for the Minnesota Reformer. Rilyn was born and raised in Minnesota and has worked in newsrooms in the Twin Cities, Iowa, Texas and most recently Virginia, where she covered education for The Staunton News Leader. She's an alumna of the Dow Jones News Fund data journalism program and the Minnesota Daily. When Rilyn isn't in the newsroom, she likes to read, add to her plant collection and try new recipes.