PORTLAND, Maine (NEWS CENTER) -- Invest in preschool; save money on corrections. That's the message of some Maine law enforcement leaders Wednesday as they released a report claiming Maine could eventually save $16 million and send 200 fewer people to jail each year if the state and federal governments became partners in early childhood education.
The idea came out of President Obama's state of the union speech. He's asked Congress for $75 billion over the next 10 years to ensure 4-year-olds with families below 200 percent of the poverty line have access to public Pre-K.
The group Fight Crime: Invest in Kids points to the results of a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association that showed that at-risk kids in preschool programs are far less likely to end up in jail. Cumberland County Sheriff Kevin Joyce, Portland Police Chief Mike Sauschuck and Two Bridges Jail Correctional Administrator Mark Westrum voiced their support for the plan Wednesday.
Sheriff Joyce said, "We can't simply arrest and prosecute our way out of these issues."
Few people argue that pre-K is not a worthwhile investment. The difficulty is finding that money at a time when both the state and federal government feel pressure to make budget cuts.
Rep. Kathy Chase (R-Wells) said, "I think Pre-K education is a good thing, and we'd like to see it put in place, but the likelihood of it being funded in the next few years, or right away, in the immediate future, not likely."
Sheriff Joyce acknowledged that finding funding these days is tricky, but he feels that it's necessary. "It's either pay now or pay later," Joyce said. "But it's going to be a lot more expensive later."
According to Maine's Department of Education, about 53 percent of the state's elementary schools have public programs for 4-year-olds.