Report | March 1, 2017

Washington: Preschool is the Key to Reducing Crime

Washington state can save $386 million by improving the quality of its preschool while cutting crime

The U.S. spends nearly $75 billion a year to incarcerate adults in federal and state prisons or local jails. Although crime rates have fallen over the past 20 years, there are still 1.2 million violent crimes and 8 million property crimes committed against people in communities across America every year. Nationwide, seven out of 10 state prisoners do not have a high school diploma, and finding stable employment once they leave prison is very challenging.

In Washington state, there are more than 20,000 violent crimes happening annually, and almost 18,000 adults incarcerated in state prisons. A study found that Washington high schoolers who dropped out were 10 times more likely to be booked into jail or admitted to corrections than their counterparts who graduated on time. Washington spends more than $1.1 billion a year on corrections.

So how do we break this vicious cycle? By investing in early education.

Investing in high-quality early education for at-risk children now will prevent criminal behavior later on.

Mark Nichols, Prosecuting Attorney, Clallum County, WA

High-quality early care, such as home visiting, and early education is a path to less crime and better school outcomes. A study of Washington’s Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program (ECEAP) found that more than 90 percent of students who participate in two years of ECEAP were ready for kindergarten in five of six developmental domains. ECEAP students also scored significantly higher in math and reading in third to fifth grade compared to their peers who did not participate in ECEAP. Washington can do more to improve ECEAP by funding more slots for the 7,400 children who are eligible for ECEAP but are unable to enroll.

If Washington continues to invest wisely in quality preschool opportunities for its disadvantaged children, thousands of children can become successful, productive adults, instead of individuals of wasted potential who too often cost taxpayers dearly. When we support what works for disadvantaged children, we put them on a safer path toward success.


  1. Washington*