The Costs of Crime

The latest projections by the Congressional Budget Office are shocking: The national debt is currently growing faster than the economy itself. And the fastest-growing single expense is interest on the debt. If the trend continues, by the end of this decade the entire gross domestic product will be needed just to service the national debt. Obviously, our nation has to change its course. President Clinton is trying to solve the problem by drumming up support for his economic package. But the problem isn't a matter of simply enticing more money into the federal coffers. Economic problems are deeply affected by people's values. Take the issue of crime, something we work with intimately here at Prison Fellowship. We all know the saying "Crime doesn't pay"; but few of us think how much crime costs. Of course, if you've ever had the frightening experience of coming home to a ransacked house, or being hit by a drunk driver, you know all too well how costly crime is for the individual victim. But crime also costs society as a whole. Escalating crime contributes to economic stagnation. Think about it. Only a few decades ago, corporations and businesses didn't need to buy expensive alarm systems or hire private security guards to patrol their property. Today these things are accepted as one of the unavoidable costs of doing business. Every product that hits the market carries a higher price tag because industry has to pay so much for security. The economic drain caused by crime is even more obvious in the public sector. As the crime rate continues to climb, America is forced to expand its police force, enlarge its criminal justice system, and construct thousands of new prison facilities. These things are all extremely costly. And the money comes right out of taxpayers' pockets. Here is a direct correlation between the economy and values—because crime is fundamentally a result of a breakdown in values. Liberals tells us the primary causes of crime are poverty and ignorance. But criminologist John Q. Wilson studied the history of crime in America and found no correlation between poverty and the crime rate. During the Depression, for instance, when poverty was widespread, the crime rate was very low. But during the 1960s and 1970s, a period of great affluence, the crime rate rose dramatically. Trying to interpret these patterns, Wilson discovered that the crime rate correlates most closely to the nation's spiritual life. During the great religious awakenings of the past century, crime fell dramatically. These were times of widespread belief in God, marriage, honesty, hard work, and sobriety. But during the 1960s, a wave of secularism spread over American culture. Belief in God declined—along with belief in things like marriage, fidelity, and hard work. And when these values were abandoned, the crime rate shot up. The conclusion is obvious: High moral values keep crime low. Low moral values allow crime to rise—along with all its economic costs. In the past presidential campaign, we all heard debates over which is more important: values or the economy. But the truth is, the two can't be separated. Values is an issue that hits right at your pocketbook.


Chuck Colson


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