How educators and lawmakers plan to keep kids out of jail


Children who attend kindergarten are more likely to be academically and socially “ready” to start kindergarten, which means they are more likely to stay on track as they progress. They are then more likely to graduate from high school on time, go to college, or find a job.

Each step is a rung in a ladder or a link in a chain. One positive experience leads to the next positive outcome, and the cycle continues, according to decades of research.

But the opposite is also true.

Students who start kindergarten late often stay behind and are therefore less likely to graduate from high school, etc., thus increasing the chances of being incarcerated later (but not much later) in life . The problem is getting worse and more children are entering the juvenile justice system.

Nationally, six in 10 incarcerated people do not have a high school diploma, according to a report by Fight Crime: Invest in Kids. Founded in 1996, the public safety advocacy group includes more than 5,000 police chiefs, sheriffs, prosecutors and survivors of violence.

The link between access to quality early childhood education and incidences of juvenile crime has been evident to researchers and advocates for some time, and now the Louisiana legislature is also connecting the dots.

State Rep. Kendricks “Ken” Brass (D-Vacherie) drafted a bill to expand the definition of “preventive measures” aimed at ensuring children do not enter the juvenile justice system, including now have early learning programs in this group.

The original law, passed in 1991, allowed parish governments to pass a special annual tax and create a revenue stream to build and operate youth detention centers.

Expanding the definition with HB460 (approved by the Legislature on June 3) now allows parish governments to use this juvenile justice funding to increase access to pre-K and Head Start and daycare facilities. children as well as educational programs and infrastructure.

“It’s a very creative way to use taxpayers’ money in a way that makes a return on investment and starts to reverse the trend we’re seeing of increasing youth crime in Louisiana communities,” said Candace Weber, director of partnerships at the Louisiana Policy Institute for Children.

What is the connection, really?

It all depends on the brain and its development, or the “architecture” of the brain, as Weber calls it.

“Research shows that these early experiences really affect the development of brain architecture,” Weber said. “Cognitive, social and emotional skills develop in these early years, so really building relationships with teachers is key.”

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Most of this development takes place before kindergarten. A baby’s brain doubles in size in the first year, is about 80% developed by age 3 and 90% by age 5. The experiences of children during this period have an impact on their development and their future.

“Kindergarten is a lifeblood, but it really starts much earlier than that,” said retired state judge Jules Edwards. “Children must be able to bond with at least one, hopefully, several adults who are demonstrated sources of love, protection, and material support. These kinds of bonds must occur for children to develop properly. “

And when this link occurs in early childhood education programs, researchers have found positive results. A 2021 MIT study of Boston’s preschool program found that preschool attendance reduced the number of students suspended in high school as well as juvenile incarceration.

But these are not new discoveries. Twenty years earlier, researchers had studied the early education program of the Chicago Child-Parent Centers (CPC). Children in the centers were 20% less likely to have served time in prison or prison by age 24, according to the Journal of American Medical Association study.

The 2001 study found that children who participated in the preschool intervention for one or two years had a higher rate of high school completion; more years of education completed; and lower rates of juvenile arrests, violent arrests, and school dropouts. Participation in an established early childhood intervention for low-income children was associated with better academic and social outcomes through age 20.

“If you give children positive childhood experiences and you intervene when they have negative childhood experiences, by definition if we do those things, they’re not engaging in antisocial behavior, like crime or intentional underemployment,” said Edwards, who served as a 15th Judicial District judge from 1992 until his retirement in 2020.

Why “invest upstream”?

There’s a lot of work to be done in Louisiana, where 60% of students started kindergarten below grade level in literacy, according to fall 2020 data from the state Department of Education.

There are approximately 307,092 children under the age of 5 in Bayou State, and nearly a quarter of them (73,228 or 23.8%) live in the 32 parishes that Partners for Family Health Louisiana are classified as moderate to high or high risk of negative outcomes. .

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In his 2020 Risk and Scope Report, the group scored the parishes on 21 indicators in five categories of health issues facing children and families in Louisiana: economic stability; access and quality of health care; social and family context; access and quality of education; and the neighborhood and the built environment.

Children in “high risk” parishes are considered to be at risk of poor mental and physical health outcomes and specifically at risk of entering school with delays that make learning more difficult, staying in back to school and leaving school less prepared for the job market or further education.

Brass said expanding the definition of preventative measures in the bill gives parishes another tool in their toolbox to better impact their youngest children.

“The plan is to invest upstream and ultimately prepare them for life and reduce the need for juvenile detention,” Brass said.

Contact Leigh Guidry, Children’s Issues Reporter, at [email protected] or on Twitter @LeighGGuidry.



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