War on Crime

A few years ago, nine-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 a 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, by psychologist Ken Magid. Magid describes children who have little sense of right and wrong—who have no conscience. Over the past few months, we've seen a whirlwind of activity on Capitol Hill as politicians cast about for solutions to the mounting crime problem. The U.S. House and Senate both passed omnibus crime bills, which they hope to reconcile in upcoming weeks for the president's signature. The danger is that all the talk about federal funding and building new prisons could be a smoke screen, 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. Give them a chance to come out as productive citizens, not predators. A full half of criminals are not dangerous—check forgers, petty thieves, low-level drug offenders. They don't belong in concrete warehouses at all. They should be placed in community-based work programs and required to support their families and pay restitution to their victims. Finally, we need to 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 has been 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 Hernstein writes that "shallow emotional attachments" are the cause of much of the random violence by adolescents. In short, the solution to crime begins right at home—in the commitment to build stable, secure families. Over the next few days, I'll be talking about real answers to crime. In the war on crime, there is a biblical battle plan. It's up to you and me to communicate it in the public arena.


Chuck Colson


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