Breaking the Cycle of Crime

  If you had to pick the most at-risk group of kids in America, who would you choose? I mean, kids at risk of child abuse, neglect, illiteracy . . . who are the ones most likely to commit crimes, abuse drugs, and die young? Well, if you guessed the children of prisoners, you guessed right. They are seven times more likely than other kids to commit crimes. And that's why today, in Philadelphia, Prison Fellowship is helping launch an exciting new ministry -- one we think will make a big difference in the lives of kids at risk. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, one and a half million children have a parent in prison. And sadly, many of them tend to follow their parents' example. According to sociologist James Q. Wilson, the leading indicator of criminal behavior is having a parent behind bars. For 18 years now, Prison Fellowship has reached out to these innocent victims of crime through Angel Tree, a wonderful program that brings Christmas gifts -- and the Gospel -- to half a million children every year. But if we really want to break the cycle of crime, we've got to do more. And that's why Prison Fellowship is working with urban churches and other groups to launch a national program, being announced today, called Evergreen Youth Ministries. In our first pilot program in Philadelphia, volunteers from inner-city churches will begin mentoring hundreds of Angel Tree children, one-on-one, throughout the year. And churches will invite kids to join youth choirs, sports teams, and Sunday School classes. We're also announcing today Evergreen PowerHouse, a five-day-a-week, church-based after-school program, which will help hundreds of kids achieve academic and spiritual goals. And during the summer, the Rich and Helen DeVos Camping Scholarships will allow a thousand kids to escape the city and attend week-long Christian camps in the country. Of course, there's no single answer to the question of how to keep children from following their parent into crime. But the research is proving that mentoring and ministering to at-risk kids can make a dramatic difference. Social scientist John DiIulio, who is the mastermind behind Evergreen, says that urban churches, working with faith-based ministries like Prison Fellowship, are the keys that can help unlock a bright future for these children. They'll unlock a brighter future for America, as well. In the last few years, faith-based programs have rallied hundreds of thousands of volunteers. They represent a revival of what was once the cardinal republican virtue of American life: a sense of civic responsibility. This is what makes free societies work: the energizing of what Edmund Burke called the "little platoons" of society. When we tutor a prisoner or drive a needy child to camp, we're helping maintain the distinctive character of American culture. It's a character trait other nations have long admired. In the nineteenth century, Tocqueville marveled that Americans form associations for everything -- to start libraries, send missionaries, and build hospitals. In his own nation, France, Tocqueville remarked, there were not ten men doing what ordinary Americans do routinely. Call us today and we'll tell you how you and your church can help. If we want to make a real and lasting difference, you and I need to enlist in one of America's faith-based "little platoons" -- and show the world the real power of our risen Lord.


Chuck Colson


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