Crime doesn’t pay. Quite the opposite, in fact. While the immediate benefit to a criminal may seem to contradict this common phrase, the truth is that crime costs real dollars to society. So it’s no surprise that a of intervention programs for low-income students — which in part help keep kids out of the criminal justice system — showed a return that would make an investment banker weep: a whopping 18 percent. Kids that participated in early prevention programs were arrested less, had better health insurance coverage and projected lifetime earnings, plus lower rates of depressive illness, drug abuse and smoking. High school graduation rates were higher, and even those who didn’t graduate still stayed in school longer than the kids outside the program. With the cost of healthcare being such a hot topic and the budgetary burden of uninsured patients being one of the culprits, the simple fact of an individual’s ability to have health insurance (or not) is something that affects all of us, low-income or otherwise.
The Chicago intervention program analyzed in the study offered aid and services to children aged 3 through 26. The children studied were born in 1979 and 1980. The services given to preschool participants cost about $8,500 per child, and the financial return to society was calculated to be more than $92,000. Less than $4,000 per child was invested in the school-age kids in the study and returned more than $15,000.
The documentary Waiting for Superman reports that the cost of housing one prison inmate for one year (approximately $132,000) is more than the cost of sending that individual to 13 years of private school. The conclusion seems clear: anything that successfully pushes kids toward education and away from crime is an investment that we can’t afford not to make.