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Sheriff, D.A. promote book-reading
Throw the book at him? Multnomah County's top law enforcement say there's a better solution: Read a book to children.
Sheriff Mike Reese and District Attorney Rod Underhill are putting a shoulder of support behind local Head Start programs that provide free preschool to 1,300 kids age 3 to 5 in 25 locations across Gresham and East Multnomah County.
One gaggle of attentive students listened Friday, Nov. 17, as the officials read "Officer Buckle and Gloria," a picture book, at the Head Start program at Covenant Presbyterian Church, 18630 S.E. Division Street.
"The simple premise is that education needs to be a focal point of our crime-prevention strategy," Underhill explained earlier in an interview. "There is no winner when we're having a prison-involved conversation."
The tuition-free pre-K program serves children of the poorest families, but there's not enough state and federal money to enroll every eligible child. Program directors say 400 children are stuck on the waitlist, and believe there are 6,000 to 7,000 more who aren't even signed up."It's the tip of the iceberg," said Martha Brooks, state director for Fight Crime: Invest In Kids, a national nonprofit organization.
Head Start costs about $8,000 to $13,000 per child, she noted, while Oregon is projected to save $513 million through the lifetimes of the 15,000 children attending Head Start programs statewide.
"Intuitively, we knew that Head Start programs were proving successful for kids," added Sheriff Reese. "But now we've got research that shows when we invest in these early-education opportunities for kids, there's downstream impacts for all of us in our community."
"Not only (does) the Head Start program strengthen our children, but it strengthens the parents," agreed state representative Carla Piluso, D-Gresham, the city's former police chief.
The sheriff, who is up for re-election in May 2018, highlighted that about 200 to 225 people have been diverted from the local jail system since June 2014. Roughly 70 to 75 percent of male inmates cooling their heels in prisons lack a high school diploma.
Underhill acknowledges the recent uptick in property crimes in east Portland and Gresham through the past two years, though he said it would take a third year of data for him to call it a statistical trend.
"The sheriff and I know how ... to use handcuffs and cage cars and jail bars," he said. "But we prefer not to unless we need to."