LACONIA — During a Belknap County Convention meeting on Monday night, called to discuss the proposed hiring of a consultant to help the county commission design a new jail around innovative programming, a couple of state representatives from Laconia espoused theories about what has contributed to an apparent growth in crime in the county. One of them observed a direct link between the proliferation of kindergarten and the increasing inmate population at the Belknap County Jail.
State Representative Harry Accornero, after hearing about the county jail's high population and recidivism rates, asked if the proposed new jail would address the problems. "Will this new facility change anything?"
After being told of the proposal for new programs, such as court diversion and drug and alcohol counseling, Accornero suggested that high incarceration rates could be avoided if police were better trained and could offer counseling services instead of reaching for handcuffs. "Where is law enforcement in all of this?" he asked.
Not to be outdone, Representative Bob Kingsbury said he's been working on a theory since 1996, when he analyzed local crime rates and compared them to a list of communities that offered public kindergarten. Then, he told his colleagues, Laconia offered kindergarten and had the highest rates of crime. Meanwhile, surrounding towns, some of which didn't offer kindergarten, had less crime.
"We're taking children away from their mothers too soon," Kingsbury concluded.
Kingsbury wrote to all of his then state representatives, informing them of his research. To his dismay, the state Legislature has since joined the remaining 49 states in mandating public kindergarten. "And we have more crime today," he said.
In addition to kindergarten, Kingsbury also linked the rise of crime to the decline of gun ownership and to fact that boxing is no longer taught in school or offered as a sport.
Both Accornero and Kingsbury are freshmen Republicans seeking second terms this fall.