An Early Start on Crime-fighting? The Effect of Access to Early Childhood Education

A Head Start on Fighting Crime (Full Paper)

Abstract: We utilize both national and state-level policies spanning decades to show that early childhood education reduces adulthood criminal behavior. To do so we leverage the county-level rollout of Head Start and Smart Start linked to administrative North Carolina crime data containing the birth county of all individuals convicted of a crime.
Across programs and time periods we find that improvements to early childhood care led to substantial (20 percent) reductions in the likelihood of a serious criminal conviction in adulthood, with these reductions concentrated in high poverty counties. While the benefits generated by each program in the form of crime reduction exceed the costs of the program, we find substantial relative gains from the targeting of funds to high poverty areas and those without existing access to subsidized care.