Feral Children

A few months ago a six-year-old boy knocked over a baby's bassinet and kicked the newborn in the head. The vicious attack left the infant permanently brain-damaged. When California police asked the six-year-old the reason for his brutal assault, he said he didn't like the way the infant's parents had once looked at him. Prosecutors say the boy knew quite well that what he was doing was wrong. He just didn't care. This outrage is just more evidence of what many of us already know: that at its 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 all day 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 nondangerous--check forgers, petty thieves, low-level drug offenders. These offenders don't belong in concrete warehouses at all. They should be placed in community-based work programs and required to support their families and to pay restitution to their victims. Finally, we need to take a long 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, like the six-year-old who tried to kill a helpless baby. This utter alienation from normal human emotions has been traced to a breakdown in parent-child relationships. As psychiatrist Selma Fraiburg writes, "Where there are no human attachments, there can be no conscience." And the late psychologist Richard Hernstein said "shallow emotional attachments" are the cause of much of the random violence by adolescents. So the long-term solution to crime begins right at home--in the commitment to build stable, secure families. This is an election year, and politicians are working overtime to prove how tough they are on crime--especially juvenile crime. President Clinton claims to be putting more cops on the beat and wants curfews for teenagers; Bob Dole wants to build more prisons and apply tougher punishments for teens who use drugs or guns. The danger is that all the talk about cracking down on kids could be a smokescreen, diverting our attention from the real cure for crime: A moral problem requires moral solutions. 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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