By Randy Villegas
During a recent Board of Supervisors meeting Kern County District Attorney Lisa Green declared that public safety must remain the top priority. “If that means closing every library in the country so you can put deputies on the street,” she said, “you need to do that.”
If you really want to prioritize public safety, you need to attack the real threat: lack of education and lack of opportunity. Numerous studies show the link between education and crime rates, and the overwhelming consensus is that the more educational opportunity communities have the lower the crime rate.
Why do people turn to a life a crime in the first place? Often times it’s because they feel as though they have no other opportunity. When a person doesn’t have a high school diploma, a degree, or the basic literacy or skills to pursue a career, their options become extremely limited. For many, crime becomes the only option left.
This is exactly why we need to invest in our libraries and other programs that help keep people on the right track. When youth in Kern County are greeted by a locked door at a local library branch that is only open 2-3 days a week, and for limited hours, what does that say about our priorities?
Who is there to help that student learn how to conduct proper research, or find that specific book for a paper? These things might seem trivial, but for many young people in our community libraries are the only place they can connect to the internet, find a quiet place to study and do the basic things that are expected of all students.
And it isn’t only young people who benefit. When a homeless person needs help building a resume and looking for a job, who is there to help them find their way out of poverty? It’s not the District Attorney’s office. It’s the Kern County Libraries and the dedicated staff that work under already limited resources.
Green’s comments also fly in the face of public opinion, as seen in the over 50 percent of residents who supported a measure that would have imposed an eighth of a penny sales tax that would directly go towards funding our public libraries. Although the proposal didn’t get the two thirds vote it needed, it was a step in the right direction and clearly showed that our community support its libraries.
With Bakersfield ranked the #1 most illiterate city in the nation, it’s clear we can’t afford to allow this cycle of illiteracy — which fuels the poverty and crime — to continue. If we truly want to save money and make our public safer, we need to educate our community and provide the proper resources for people to pull themselves out of poverty.
That child that learns how to read a book will read so much more. They’ll read their name on their diploma, their job application after graduation, their ballot at the booth, and most importantly they’ll learn the value of education and critical thinking.
And if we shift our focus to education and resources like our libraries, perhaps in the future we won’t have to make such drastic cuts to our departments, because those who earn more ultimately contribute more to the local economy.
Lisa Green, I bet you must have read at least a few books growing up, maybe even a couple in law school. If any of those books ever came from a public library, then maybe you can consider the 864,124+ people living in Kern County whose only access to the internet, books and basic resources is the local library. I sincerely hope that you apologize to the people of Kern for your statement last week.
Randy Villegas is a student at Cal State Bakersfield and a youth reporter for South Kern Sol.