As sheriff, I know we can’t rely on cops, cuffs, and courthouses alone. The most powerful tools for curbing street crime include after-school programs, and it’s easy to see why: When youth leave school, many of them return to empty homes because their parents are still at work. We know from research that “prime time for juvenile crime” is during those hours — a period when juvenile crime rates more than double.

Recognizing these problems, Illinois created the Teen Reach after-school program almost 20 years ago. As our chief state-funded after-school initiative, Teen Reach creates a safe environment where middle and high school students engage with supportive mentors and obtain help with homework. This model program — with high quality and accountability standards — serves 14,000 youth in all corners of our state.

That is why I was alarmed when Gov. Rauner suspended funding for Teen Reach after-school programs on April 3. Additionally, the proposed state budget for FY 2016 zeroes-out all funding for Teen Reach, and virtually guarantees more trouble for more teens on more streets throughout Illinois.

Police chiefs, sheriffs, and state’s attorneys statewide see quality after-school programs, like Teen Reach, as essential to not only youth development but public safety. There’s no question that state leaders face many difficult challenges in crafting the next state budget. But we need policymakers to avoid creating far greater challenges for kids, families, and communities, too. They can do that by protecting efforts we know to reap such significant rewards.

Thomas J. Dart, Cook County Sheriff

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Let bobcats be

Absolutely, without a doubt, the General Assembly should shoot down the bobcat hunting bill (April 17 editorial). I don’t understand why hunters feel it’s their right to shoot innocent animals, whether for sport or to control the population. It’s just man being man at his worst.

I think all God’s creatures have a right to be left alone, maintain their natural habitats and do their best to survive. They should be protected from inhumane behavior.  Former Gov. Quinn was correct to veto the bill while in office. Let that stand.

Donna Pemberton, Wilmette

The cruelest sport: hunting 

The reality that hunters want legislation that allows them to brutally kill majestic bobcats is an outrage. Hunting is legal animal abuse that should be banned. It’s indisputably a cruel, inhumane and violent activity that causes suffering, bloodshed and carnage. Firearms and other lethal weapons are used to traumatize, maim and kill innocent animals. This so-called sport is an atrocity.

Brien Comerford, Glenview

Only 1 can beat machine

The only Jesus who can beat the Democratic machine in Chicago is the Jesus that lived 2,000 years ago.

Richard R. Siska, Matteson