A Lock and a Prayer:

CONFRONTING AMERICA’S CRIME

The crime rate has dipped—dramatically in some places—as you’ve doubtless read. The bad news is, this dip should give us just about enough time to buy a few more locks before another crime wave breaks over America.

That’s not just my opinion. Last week a bipartisan group called the Council on Crime in America warned us that the drop is just temporary, because it’s due to the aging of baby boomers. They also warned us what’s in store: a “coming storm of juvenile crime.” America, the Council warned, is “a ticking . . . violent crime bomb, and there is little time remaining to prepare for the blast.”

Even worse, the Council found that “each generation of crime-prone boys is several times more dangerous than the one before it . . . [that] more and more violent crime [will] involve teenage wolf packs.” Most ominous of all, the Council found, “80 percent of the most serious offenders escape . . . arrest.”

The obvious question is: What can we do about it? Greater use of police and prisons is a must. But if we relied only on prisons to halt crime, then to avert the coming disaster, we’d have to become absolutely ruthless.

For example, we already know that 6 percent of all teenage boys commit more than half the serious offenses perpetrated by all youth. To make a real dent in crime, you can’t wait until a kid has a long juvenile record. You’d have to take an 11-year-old who is showing signs of becoming one of those 6 percenters—and there are tens of thousands of them—and remove him from the community until he turns 35, the age when most people become less violent.

Sound extreme? Of course it is. And for reasons that are fairly obvious—at least for now, and I hope forever—Americans are unlikely to adopt such drastic measures. Why?

Well, for one thing, there’s something the Constitution calls due process. You can’t lock people up because you believe, even with good reason, that they’re going to commit a crime.

For another thing, such policies would overwhelmingly affect black kids, and while black Americans tend to be these kids’ victims, they would rightfully resist seeing their youngsters locked up en masse. New racial tensions would be unleashed.

Even if we did lock up all crime-prone kids, would it solve the problem? What societal forces are responsible for lighting the crime bomb’s fuse?

The crime council has part of the answer. Their report says that many of today’s youth are growing up “where the institutions of civil society—family, schools, churches, voluntary associations—are proving too weak to keep [kids] on the straight and narrow.” Precisely.

Scripture tells us that the purpose of government is to restrain evil and preserve order. But there are limits to what government can do to prevent the pathologies that make up the crime-bomb components. As the commissioners acknowledge, “more spending by [government cannot] . . . prevent today’s at-risk 4-to-7-year-old boys from becoming the next decade’s . . . predatory street felons . . .”

The Council is on the right track. They’ve issued the warning. But tougher criminal justice won’t solve the problem, unless we’re willing to scrap the Constitution, and that’s too high a price to pay. But there are some things you and I can do to defuse the coming crime bomb. Read on, and I’ll tell you what they are.


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