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Ventura County Perspective

Program May Nip Crime in Bud

November 15, 1998

Nowhere is the truth of Ben Franklin's line, "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure," more profound than in law enforcement.

The billions of dollars Californians spend on police, prosecutors and prisons are just part of the cost of putting our faith in the cure. Add to that the uncountable heartache, personal loss and wasted potential that result when young people slide into lives of crime.

Taking steps to keep that from happening is a smart investment. And one key to effective crime prevention is to start young--very young.

We salute Santa Paula's innovative new early intervention program, which will work with 120 youths ages 10 to 14. Expanding on a pilot program in South Oxnard, it will be the largest to date in the county. Authorities hope it will be a model for early intervention programs in other cities. From Fillmore to Ventura, the county has set aside $850,000 for community-based organizations, most of which will go to intervention and prevention among younger children.

The Santa Paula program--funded by a $424,000 state grant administered by the nonprofit group Interface--will involve more than 10 local agencies and include drug counseling, family counseling, academic tutoring at the library and, if needed, enough financial help to let them participate in activities.

If age 10 seems too young to be singling out kids for this sort of special attention, consider: Research shows that clues as to which children are likely to become juvenile delinquents can be spotted as early as first or second grade. The best time to target youngsters is while they are still in elementary school. Program participants should be chosen with care.

Ventura County is a model to the nation for its effective law enforcement and low crime rates. Certainly, vigilant policing will always be necessary. But increased emphasis on prevention programs like the ones in South Oxnard and Santa Paula can help make this enviable record a bit easier to achieve.

No one can predict how much this $420,000 investment might save in future costs of enforcing the law. But if it saves a few kids from wasting their lives on crime and spares a few potential victims from ugly encounters with them, it will be money well spent indeed.

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