The Kirwan Commission’s final report on innovation and excellence in education released as 2019 drew to a close has been praised, criticized, embraced, denounced and characterized as being too costly to taxpayers. The report and its recommendations will be debated before the state Legislature during the 2020 session that opens Jan. 8.
What is too costly, too costly to ignore is the impact the commission recommendations can have on crime. Providing a quality education to our young people today is not only morally right, it is less costly to the taxpayer than having to arrest them, prosecute them and incarcerate them when they become adults tomorrow.
Even low-level crimes, many of which escape the attention of the media and the public, are costly to a community. They can involve an investigation by police, arrest of the offender, pretrial detention, adjudication, and probation or incarceration, all of which are a burden to the taxpayers. And that does not even count the cost of property losses by the victim or losses to a community’s image and reputation that can affect the quality of life for residents and the local economy in a variety of ways.
The Kirwan Commission’s recommendations include expanded pre-K, increased special education resources, and increased mental health resources. These all contribute to heightened student success, particularly for those at risk, youth who could end up dropping out of school and entering a lifelong path punctuated by poverty and crime.
A 2003 Department of Justice Special Report by the Bureau of Justice Statistics stated that “68 percent of state prison inmates did not receive a high school diploma.” Clearly successful completion of a K-to-12 education leading to a high school diploma is our single most effective crime prevention effort.
Of course the passage of the Kirwan recommendations will not eliminate all of the costs associated with crime, for there will always be some level of crime and disorder to deal with, but it can reduce those costs significantly. By providing opportunity through education, particularly for the disadvantaged in our society who find themselves in difficult often impossible circumstances, through no fault of their own, we can reduce the social and economic costs of crime to our community.
Responses to crime usually come, after the fact, after a rise in crime or a significant event that produces a demand for action. Demands for action generally come in the form of increased police activity, harsher penalties and the like. While these reactionary measures may produce short-term satisfaction, they do nothing to cure the underlying causes that contribute to crime and disorder problems. A plethora of studies have shown that education, particularly early childhood education, coupled with high school graduation prevents teens and young adults from entering a life of crime.
Local law enforcement officials need to step up to the plate and support the Kirwan Commission recommendations, recommendations that dovetail with their own crime prevention efforts. Crime prevention is the first obligation of our law enforcement officials. In the words of Sir Robert Peel, founder of the London Metropolitan Police in 1829, “To recognize always that the test of police efficiency is the absence of crime and disorder, and not the visible evidence of police action in dealing with them.”
Embracing the recommendations of the Kirwan Commission by local law enforcement leaders would demonstrate a commitment to proactive measures that will contribute to future reductions in crime and disorder.
Karl Bickel, formerly second in command of the Frederick County Sheriff’s Office and former assistant professor of criminal justice, is retired from the U.S. Department of Justice and writes from Monrovia. He can be reached at KarlBickel@comcast.net.