A few years ago, 9-year-old Jeffrey Bailey, Jr., calmly pushed a three-year-old child into the deep end of a swimming pool. Like a scientist making a detached observation, Jeffrey pulled up lawn chair and sat down to watch the younger child drown.
When police tracked down the young killer, he was nonchalant, and even seemed to enjoy all the attention.
This chilling story is told in High Risk, a book by psychologist Ken Magid. Magid says children who do not form a deep emotional attachment to a parent in the early years fail to develop a sense of right and wrong.
Over the past months, we’ve seen a whirlwind of activity as politicians cast about for solutions to the mounting crime problem. The U.S. House and Senate both passed omnibus crime bills, which they will reconcile later this month or next to put on the president’s desk.
The danger is that all the talk about federal funding and building new prisons could be a smokescreen, diverting our attention from the real cause of crime. At the core, crime is a moral problem?people choosing to do what is wrong.
And it requires a moral solution.
What does a moral solution to crime look like? It would begin by challenging prison inmates to moral reformation. Take, for example, the work of Prison Fellowship. We are a vast movement of Christian volunteers who hold evangelistic meetings and Bible studies behind bars, bringing the power of God to lives ravaged by crime. Prisons ought to welcome programs like ours that bring moral and spiritual reformation to those who have broken the law.
A moral dimension can be built into public policy as well. Many criminals are functionally illiterate and have no job skills. Why should an inmate lie on a bunk day in, day out?with idle hands and an empty mind? Prisons should require inmates to participate in educational programs and prison industries?so that they come out as productive citizens, not predators.
A full half of criminals are non-dangerous and don’t belong in concrete warehouses at all. They should be placed in community-based work programs, and required to pay restitution to their victims instead of languishing in an expensive cell, with you and I paying the bill.
Finally, we need take a long-range view of crime. Ultimately, the answer to crime depends on the cultivation of conscience. The most chilling stories in the news today are about kids who kill with no glimmer of conscience.
That utter alienation from normal human emotions is traced to a breakdown in parent-child relationships. Psychiatrist Selma Fraiburg writes, “Where there are no human attachments, there can be no conscience.” Psychologist Richard Herrnstein agrees that “shallow emotional attachments” are the cause of much of the random violence by adolescents. In short, the problem begins in the family.
Over the next several days I’ll be continuing a special BreakPoint series on the number one problem in our nation today: crime. You can call us here at BreakPoint and order a transcript of the entire series.
In the war on crime, there is biblical battle plan. But it’s up to you and me to communicate it in the public arena.