Carroll County Attorney John Werden is urging congress to approve spending on youth programs designed to support at-risk kids and, hopefully, keep them out of the criminal justice system when they’re adults.

Werden is on the executive board of a non-partisan group representing sheriffs, chiefs of police and prosecutors from all 50 states. “We work for legislation in Washington that we believe, long term, reduces or prevents crime,” Werden says.

The group “Fight Crime: Invest in Kids” was formed in 1996. Wergen and other leaders of the group were recently in Washington, D.C. to lobby for increased funding of a federal program that provides home visits for new parents in high-risk areas.

“It’s a voluntary visiting program where we get nurse level professionals going into homes — mainly single parent homes — to emphasize good things that you and I were raised with, which is go to school, study hard,” Werden says, “all things that we know will lead to success later in life.”

Under current funding levels, Werden says only 3% of the households that qualify for the program are getting at home visits. The group is also asking congress to reauthorize another program that provides federal funding for state facilities that house juveniles who’ve been arrested and charged with a crime.

At the local level, members of the group focus on combating truancy. Werden says research clearly shows keeping kids in school is critical to fighting crime.

“If I want to know who’s going to be in prison, show me the kids in the 4th grade who can’t read,” Werden says. “These are going to be our future prisoners, so keeping people in school, keeping them involved and engaged is very, very important.”

According to the National Assessment of Adult Literacy, 70% of the adults in U.S. prisons cannot read at a 4th grade level.

(Reporting by Nathan Konz, KCIM, Carroll)

Radio Iowa