The studies paint the picture of the challenges law enforcement and the community face if the proper investments aren’t made.

Four of the top law enforcers from Benton County, Wash., joked and laughed while taking time Oct. 24 to read a book about police officers to preschoolers at Benton Franklin Head Start in Richland, Wash., but their visit was about a serious subject.

The longtime cops and prosecutor spoke out about the lack of funding for high-quality early childhood education programs and how investing in kids can reduce crime and save money.

Benton County Sheriff Steve Keane said he has spent more than 20 years in law enforcement dealing with offenders who often talk about not getting a good education as the start of their path down the wrong road.

“It becomes very clear to us that we need to invest in programs to prevent kids from being criminals in the first place,” Keane said. “We invest now, or we’re going to continue to pay later.”

Keane, joined by Benton County Prosecutor Andy Miller, Kennewick Police Chief Ken Hohenberg, and Richland Police Chief Chris Skinner, discussed a new report released by Fight Crime: Invest in Kids, a national anti-crime organization.

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The nonprofit group is made up of more than 5,000 police chiefs, sheriffs, prosecutors, and violence survivors—including more than 225 in Washington state—and is tasked to look at what works and what doesn’t to prevent crime and violence, officials said.

Skinner noted that the report showed that $1 billion is spent each year on prisons in Washington, while $139 million is spent on early childhood education.

“We know that while crime doesn’t pay, we pay for crime,” he said.

Skinner also said that in comparing the cost of corrections to the cost of preschool, “we invest just three dimes in early learning for every dollar we spend on locking people up.”

The report provided research from various programs, including the Perry Preschool Program in Michigan and Chicago Child-Parent Centers, which have been operating since the 1960s.