BATON ROUGE, La (BRPROUD) – Law enforcement leaders gather at the state capital on Wednesday to urge lawmakers to invest in the youth of Louisiana to keep them off the streets.

Funding child care can now set kids on the right path and prevent crimes in the future. This comes at a time when the state will likely lose millions in federal funding.

“Jails are not the answer, education is the answer,” said Point Coupee Sheriff Rene Thibodeaux.

You might not expect to hear this from someone working in law enforcement, but with millions in federal funding on the chopping block, Sheriff Thibodeaux said children’s futures are at risk.

“If you do not educate this child between one and four years old, you’re going to spend three times that money to incarcerate that child,” Thibodeaux said.

Law enforcement leaders from across the state are members of the initiative Fight Crime: Invest in Kids, an organization of police chiefs, sheriffs and prosecutors that for more than 25 years has advocated for early childhood education and care initiatives that evidence shows are effective at reducing crime.

“In our state, too many aren’t getting the start that they need and once they fall behind, they play catch-up for a long time, and some for a lifetime,” said Oil City Police Chief Diane Williams.

Members urge state legislative action in advance of Louisiana losing almost $200 million in federal funding.

“It’s just like building a house, you don’t put the roof on before you build a solid foundation, you start from the bottom up,” said Grambling Police Chief Tommy Clark Jr.

Federal COVID-19 funding allowed 16,000 children to get childcare.

“These funds cover more than just seats alone, they help ready start networks like ours that attract and retain early childhood staff,” said Poplar Grove Baptist Church Daycare and Learning Center Director Nakiva Grimes.

A new research report claimed early childhood education and care initiatives are effective at reducing crime.

Law enforcement leaders said funding in House One budget bill would fill the funding gap.

“If they do not receive this help, they will fall behind emotionally, socially, and some of them are going to end up in our jails,” said Thibodeaux.