Policymakers at last are coming to recognize the connection
between the breakdown of American families and various social
problems. The unfolding debate over welfare reform, for instance,
has been shaped by the wide acceptance in recent years that
children born into single-parent families are much more likely than
children of intact families to fall into poverty and welfare
dependence themselves in later years. These children, in fact, face
a daunting array of problems.
While this link between illegitimacy and chronic welfare
dependency now is better understood, policymakers also need to
appreciate another strong and disturbing pattern evident in
scholarly studies: the link between illegitimacy and violent crime
and between the lack of parental attachment and violent crime.
Without an understanding of the root causes of criminal behavior --
how criminals are formed -- Members of Congress and state
legislators cannot understand why whole sectors of society,
particularly in urban areas, are being torn apart by crime. And
without that knowledge, sound policymaking is impossible.
A review of the empirical evidence in the professional
literature of the social sciences gives policymakers an insight
into the root causes of crime. Consider, for instance:
- Over the past thirty years, the rise in violent crime parallels
the rise in families abandoned by fathers.
- High-crime neighborhoods are characterized by high
concentrations of families abandoned by fathers.
- State-by-state analysis by Heritage scholars indicates that a
10 percent increase in the percentage of children living in
single-parent homes leads typically to a 17 percent increase in
- The rate of violent teenage crime corresponds with the number
of families abandoned by fathers.
- The type of aggression and hostility demonstrated by a future
criminal often is foreshadowed in unusual aggressiveness as early
as age five or six.
- The future criminal tends to be an individual rejected by other
children as early as the first grade who goes on to form his own
group of friends, often the future delinquent gang.
On the other hand:
- Neighborhoods with a high degree of religious practice are not
- Even in high-crime inner-city neighborhoods, well over 90
percent of children from safe, stable homes do not become
delinquents. By contrast only 10 percent of children from unsafe,
unstable homes in these neighborhoods avoid crime.
- Criminals capable of sustaining marriage gradually move away
from a life of crime after they get married.
- The mother's strong affectionate attachment to her child is the
child's best buffer against a life of crime.
- The father's authority and involvement in raising his children
are also a great buffer against a life of crime.
The scholarly evidence, in short, suggests that at the heart of
the explosion of crime in America is the loss of the capacity of
fathers and mothers to be responsible in caring for the children
they bring into the world. This loss of love and guidance at the
intimate levels of marriage and family has broad social
consequences for children and for the wider community. The
empirical evidence shows that too many young men and women from
broken families tend to have a much weaker sense of connection with
their neighborhood and are prone to exploit its members to satisfy
their unmet needs or desires. This contributes to a loss of a sense
of community and to the disintegration of neighborhoods into social
chaos and violent crime. If policymakers are to deal with the root
causes of crime, therefore, they must deal with the rapid rise of
OFFICIAL WASHINGTON'S VIEW OF
The professional literature in criminology is quite at odds with
orthodox thinking in official Washington. Many lawmakers in
Congress and in the states assume that the high level of crime in
America must have its roots in material conditions, such as poor
employment opportunities and a shortage of adequately funded social
programs. But Members of Congress and other policymakers cannot
understand the root causes of crime if they insist on viewing it
purely in material terms. This view blinds policymakers to the
personal aspects of crime, including moral failure, the refusal to
exercise personal responsibility, and the inability or refusal to
enter into family and community relationships based on love,
respect, and attachment both to the broader community and to a
common code of conduct.
The Violent crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994,
supported by the Clinton Administration and enacted last year,
perfectly embodies official Washington's thinking about crime. It
provides for billions of dollars in new spending, adding 15 new
social programs on top of a welfare system that has cost taxpayers
$5 trillion since the "War on poverty" was declared in 1965. There
is no reason to suppose the programs will have any significant
effect. Since 1965, welfare spending has increased 800 percent in
real terms, while the number of major felonies per capita today is
roughly three times the rate before 1960. As Senator Phil Gramm
(R-TX) says, "If social spending stopped crime we would be the
safest country in the world."
Senator Joseph Biden (D-DE), former chairman of the Senate
Judiciary Committee and a major sponsor of the recent crime bill,
summed up the predominant view of crime prevention: "These [social
services] are all good programs. They are all designed to do the
same thing -- give these kids something to say yes to." Likewise,
the Department of Justice's report, "Comprehensive Strategy for
Serious, Violent and Chronic Juvenile Offenders," accurately
diagnoses the roots of the problem (in terms of family, religion,
and moral formation), but then recommends a long list of new
federal social programs on top of the current programs.
But the conventional assumptions about the root causes of crime
-- and thus the solutions -- are wide of the mark:
poverty and Unemployment
The central proposition in official Washington's thinking about
crime is that poverty is the primary cause of crime. In its
simplest form, this contention is absurd; if it were true, there
would have been more crime in the past, when more people were
poorer. And in poorer nations, the crime rates would be higher than
in the United States. More significantly, history defies the
assumption that deteriorating economic circumstances breed crime
(and improving conditions reduce it). Instead, America's crime rate
gradually rose during the long period of real economic growth: 1905
to 1933. As the Great Depression set in and incomes dropped, the
crime rate also dropped. It rose again between 1965 and 1974 when
incomes rose steadily. Most recently, during the recession of 1982,
there was a slight dip in crime, not an increase.
What is true of the general population is also true of black
Americans. For example, between 1950 and 1974 black income in
Philadelphia almost doubled, and homicides more than doubled. Even
the Reverend Jesse Jackson, whose prescriptions for social reform
mirror conventional liberal ideology, admits that black-on-black
homicide is not an issue of poverty. The crime rate in other
communities also shows no link between low incomes and crime. The
Chinese in San Francisco in the mid- 1960s, for instance, had the
lowest family income of any ethnic group (less than $4,000 per
year) but next to no crime: only 5 Chinese in all of California
were then in prison.
Race and crime
There is a widespread belief that race is a major explanatory
cause of crime. This belief is anchored in the large disparity in
crime rates between whites and blacks. However, a closer look at
the data shows that the real variable is not race but family
structure and all that it implies in commitment and love between
adults. The incidence of broken families is much higher in the
black community. Douglas Smith and G. Roger Jarjoura, in a major
1988 study of 11,000 individuals, found that "the percentage of
single-parent households with children between the ages of 12 and
20 is significantly associated with rates of violent crime and
burglary." The same study makes clear that the widespread popular
assumption that there is an association between race and crime is
false. Illegitimacy is the key factor. It is the absence of
marriage, and the failure to form and maintain intact families,
that explains the incidence of high crime in a neighborhood among
whites as well as blacks. This contradicts conventional wisdom.
Bolstering the Smith-Jarjoura study, University ofIllinois
sociologist Robert J. Sampson, in a study on the differential
effects of poverty and family disruption on crime, states:
Overall the analysis shows that rates of black violent
offending, especially by juveniles, are strongly influenced by
variations in family structure. Independent of the major candidates
supplied by prior criminological theory (e.g. income, region, size,
density, age and race composition) black family disruption has the
largest effects on black juvenile robbery and homicide.... The
effects of family structure are strong and cannot be easily
dismissed by reference to other structural and cultural features of
urban environments.... The effect of family disruption on black
violence is not due to the effect of black violence on family
Sampson adds: "the predictors of white robbery are in large part
identical in sign and magnitude to those for blacks."
HOW CRIMINAL BEHAVIOR DEVELOPS
Propensity to crime develops in stages associated with major
psychological and sociological factors. The factors are not caused
by race or poverty, and the stages are the normal tasks of growing
up that every child confronts as he gets older. In the case of
future violent criminals these tasks, in the absence of the love,
affection, and dedication of both his parents, become perverse
exercises, frustrating his needs and stunting his ability to
The stages are:
- Early infancy and the development of the capacity for empathy.
Early family life and the development of relationships based on
agreements being kept and a sense of an intimate place where he
belongs. Early school life and the development of peer
relationships based on cooperation and agreements conveying a sense
of a community to which he belongs.
- Mid-childhood and the experience of a growing capacity to learn
and cooperate within his community.
- Adolescence and the need to belong as an adult and to
- Generativity, or the begetting of the next generation through
intimate sexual union and bringing others into the family and the
In all of these stages the lack of dedication and the atmosphere
of rejection or conflict within the family diminish the child's
experience of his personal life as one of love, dedication, and a
place to belong. Instead, it is characterized increasingly by
rejection, abandonment, conflict, isolation, and even abuse. He is
compelled to seek a place to belong outside of such a home and,
most frequently not finding it in the ordinary community, finds it
among others who have experienced similar rejection. He becomes
attached to those who are alienated, for, like him, they have been
rejected. Not finding acceptance and nurturance from caring adults,
they begin conveying their own form of acceptance.
STAGE ONE: THE BROKEN family
The evidence of the professional literature is overwhelming:
teenage criminal behavior has its roots in habitual deprivation of
parental love and affection going back to early infancy. Future
delinquents invariably have a chaotic, disintegrating family life.
This frequently leads to aggression and hostility toward others
outside the family. Most delinquents are not withdrawn or
depressed. Quite the opposite: they are actively involved in their
neighborhood, but often in a violent fashion. This hostility is
established in the first few years of life. By age six, habits of
aggression and free-floating anger typically are already formed. By
way of contrast, normal children enjoy a sense of personal security
derived from their natural attachment to their mother. The future
criminal is often denied that natural attachment.
The relationship between parents, not just the relationship
between mother and child, has a powerful effect on very young
children. Children react to quarreling parents by disobeying,
crying, hitting other children, and in general being much more
antisocial than their peers. And, significantly, quarreling or
abusive parents do not generally vent their anger equally on all
their children. Such parents tend to vent their anger on their more
difficult children. This parental hostility and physical and
emotional abuse of the child shapes the future delinquent.
Most delinquents are children who have been abandoned by their
fathers. They are often deprived also of the love and affection
they need from their mother. Inconsistent parenting, family
turmoil, and multiple other stresses (such as economic hardship and
psychiatric illnesses) that flow from these disagreements compound
the rejection of these children by these parents, many of whom
became criminals during childhood. With all these factors working
against the child's normal development, by age five the future
criminal already will tend to be aggressive, hostile, and
hyperactive. Four-fifths of children destined to be criminals will
be "antisocial" by 11 years of age, and fully two-thirds of
antisocial five-year-olds will be delinquent by age 15.
Summing up the findings of the professional literature on
juvenile delinquency, Kevin Wright, professor of criminal justice
at the State University of New York at Binghamton, writes:
"Research confirms that children raised in supportive,
affectionate, and accepting homes are less likely to become
deviant. Children rejected by parents are among the most likely to
family Condition Leading to crime #1:
According to the professional literature, the absence of the
father is the single most important cause of poverty. The same is
true for crime. According to Kevin and Karen Wright,
Research into the idea that single-parent homes may
produce more delinquents dates back to the early 19th century....
[O]fficials at New York State's Auburn Penitentiary, in an attempt
to discern the causes of crime, studied the biographies of
incarcerated men. Reports to the legislature in 1829 and 1830
suggested that family disintegration resulting from the death,
desertion, or divorce of parents led to undisciplined children who
eventually became criminals. Now well over a century later,
researchers continue to examine the family background of unique
populations and reach similar conclusions.
The growth of the poverty-ridden family today is linked directly
with the growth of the family headed by the always-single mother.
And this modern form of family disintegration -- or more accurately
non-formation -- has its consequences for criminal behavior. The
growth in crime is paralleled by the growth in families abandoned
As the chart on the following page shows, the rate of juvenile
crime within each state is closely linked to the percentage of
children raised in single-parent families. States with a lower
percentage of single-parent families, on average, will have lower
rates of juvenile crime. State-by-state analysis indicates that, in
general, a 10 percent increase in the number of children living in
single-parent homes (including divorces) accompanies a 17 percent
increase in juvenile crime.
Along with the increased probability of family poverty and
heightened risk of delinquency, a father's absence is associated
with a host of other social problems. The three most prominent
effects are lower intellectual development, higher levels of
illegitimate parenting in the teenage years, and higher levels of
welfare dependency. According to a 1990 report from the Department
of Justice, more often than not, missing and "throwaway" children
come from single-parent families, families with step parents, and
Abandoned mothers. In normal families a father gives support to
his wife, particularly during the period surrounding birth and in
the early childhood years when children make heavy demands on her.
In popular parlance, he is her "burn-out" prevention. But a single
mother does not have this support, and the added emotional and
physical stress may result in fatigue and less parent availability
to the child, increasing the risk of a relationship with the child
that is emotionally more distant. The single mother generally is
less able to attend to all of her child's needs as quickly or as
fully as she could if she were well taken care of by a husband.
These factors tend to affect the mother's emotional attachment to
her child and in turn reduce the child's lifelong capacity for
emotional attachment to others and empathy for others. Such empathy
helps restrain a person from acting against others' well-being.
Violent criminals obviously lack this. At the extreme, and a more
common situation in America's inner cities, the distant
relationship between a mother and child can become an abusing and
neglectful relationship. Under such conditions the child is at risk
of becoming a psychopath.
These observations have disturbing implications for society. If
the conditions in which psychopathy is bred continue to increase,
then America will have proportionately more psychopaths, and
society is at an increased risk of suffering in unpredictable
Abandoned sons. A father's attention to his son has enormous
positive effects on a boy's emotional and social development. But a
boy abandoned by his father is deprived of a deep sense of personal
security. According to Rolf Loeber, Professor of Psychiatry,
Psychology and Epidemiology at the Western Psychiatric Institute in
the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, "A close and
intense relationship between a boy and his father prevents
hostility and inappropriate aggressiveness." This inappropriate
aggressiveness is an early indication of potential delinquency
later on, particularly in boys. Furthermore, such bad behavior is a
barrier to the child's finding a place among his more normal peers,
and aggressiveness usually is the precursor of a hostile and
violent "street" attitude. Elijah Anderson, Professor of Sociology
at the University of Pennsylvania, observes that these young men,
very sensitive in their demands for "respect," display a demeanor
which communicates "deterrent aggression" not unlike the behavior
that causes normal peers to reject and isolate aggressive boys in
grade school. The message of this body language, of course,
triggers rejection by the normal adult community.
Absence of a Father's Authority and Discipline. The dominant
role of fathers in preventing delinquency is well-established. Over
forty years ago, this phenomenon was highlighted in the classic
studies of the causes of delinquency by Sheldon and Eleanor Glueck
of Harvard University. They described in academic terms what many
children hear their mothers so often say: "Wait till your father
gets home!" In a well-functioning family, the very presence of the
father embodies authority, an authority conveyed through his daily
involvement in family life. This paternal authority is critical to
the prevention of psychopathology and delinquency.
The benefits a child receives from his relationship with his
father are notably different from those derived from his
relationship with his mother. The father contributes a sense of
paternal authority and discipline which is conveyed through his
involved presence. The additional benefits of his affection and
attachment add to this primary benefit. Albert Bandura, professor
of psychology at Stanford University, observed as early as 1959
that delinquents suffer from an absence of the father's
family Condition Leading to crime #2:
The Absence of a Mother's Love
According to Professor Rolf Loeber of the University of
Pittsburgh School of Medicine: "There is increasing evidence for an
important critical period that occurs early in children's lives. At
that time, youngsters' attachment to adult caretakers is formed.
This helps them to learn prosocial skills and to unlearn any
aggressive or acting out behaviors."
The early experience of intense maternal affection is the basis
for the development of a conscience and moral empathy with
If a child's emotional attachment to his mother is disrupted
during the first few years, permanent harm can be done to his
capacity for emotional attachment to others. He will be less able
to trust others and throughout his life will stay more distant
emotionally from others. Having many different caretakers during
the first few years can lead to a loss of this sense of attachment
for life and to antisocial behavior. Separation from the mother,
especially between six months and three years of age, can lead to
long lasting negative effects on behavior and emotional
development. Severe maternal deprivation is a critical ingredient
of juvenile delinquency: As John Bowlby, the father of attachment
research, puts it, "Theft, like rheumatic fever, is a disease of
childhood, and, as in rheumatic fever, attacks in later life are
frequently in the nature of recurrences." A child's emotional
attachment to his mother is powerful in other ways. For example,
even after a period of juvenile delinquency, a young man's ability
to become emotionally attached to his wife can make it possible for
him to turn away from crime. This capacity is rooted in the very
early attachment to his mother. We also know that a weak marital
attachment resulting in separation or divorce accompanies a
continuing life of crime.
Many family conditions can weaken a mother's attachment to her
young child. Perhaps the mother herself is an emotionally
unattached person. The mother could be so lacking in family and
emotional support that she cannot fill the emotional needs of the
child. She could return to work, or be forced to return to work,
too soon after the birth of her child. Or, while she is at work,
there could be a change in the personnel responsible for the
child's day care. The more prevalent these conditions, the less
likely a child will be securely attached to his mother and the more
likely he will be hostile and aggressive.
The mother's relationship with her children during this early
period is also relevant to the debate over child care. According to
Professor James Q. Wilson of the University of California at Los
Angeles, the extended absence of a working mother from her child
during the early critical stages of the child's emotional
development increases the risk of delinquency. Specifically, say
Stephen Cernkovich and Peggy Giordano, "maternal employment affects
behavior indirectly, through such factors as lack of supervision,
loss of direct control, and attenuation of close relationships."
Thus, forcing a young single mother to return to work too soon
after the birth of her baby is bad public policy. Unfortunately,
the Clinton Administration's welfare reform bill would do just
family Condition Leading to crime #3:
Parental Fighting and Domestic Violence
The empirical evidence shows that, for a growing child, the
happiest and most tranquil family situation is the intact primary
marriage. But even within intact two-parent families, serious
parental conflict has bad effects. The famous studies of Harvard
professors Sheldon and Eleanor Glueck in the 1950s found that
one-third of delinquent boys in their sample came from homes with
spouse abuse. The Cambridge-Somerville Youth Study observed that
the incidence of delinquent behavior was higher in intact homes
characterized by a high degree of conflict and neglect than it was
in broken homes without conflict. As this and other studies have
shown, the lack of emotional attachment to parents is more strongly
related to delinquency than is an intact home. Professor Kevin N.
Wright, in his review of the literature for the Department of
Justice, lists 21 other major studies that clearly show the link
between parental conflict and delinquency. The lesson is clear:
conflict between parents hurts the child. The more frequent or
intense the conflict, the more the child is hurt emotionally. In
sharp contrast, tranquillity and peace in the family and in the
marriage help prevent delinquency.
family Breakup. Breakup of his parents' marriage during the
first five years of his life places a child at high risk of
becoming a juvenile delinquent. This breakup -- through either
divorce or separation -- is most likely to occur three to four
years after marriage. Therefore, a large proportion of very young
children experience the emotional pain of the early and final
stages of marital dissolution at a time when they are most
vulnerable to disruptions in their emotional attachment to their
Conflict within "step families" (families where at least one of
the married parents is not the biological parent of all the
children) also has serious effects. According to the California
Youth Authority study of female delinquents, conducted by Jill
Leslie Rosenbaum, professor of criminology at California State
University, "In the two parent families examined in this study a
great deal of conflict was present. Of these parents, 71 percent
fought regularly about the children. Since there were often 'his',
'hers' and 'theirs' present, the sources of conflict tended to
result from one set of children having a bad influence on the
others, the type of punishment invoked, or one particular child
receiving too much attention."
Rates of conflict are much higher outside intact marriage
families. Not surprisingly, the rates of emotional and behavioral
problems of children are more than double in step families. Given
their impact on children, the marriage arrangements of parents have
significant effects on the incidence of teenage crime.
family Condition Leading to crime #4:
The Lack of Parental Supervision and Discipline
The absence of parental supervision and discipline often is due
simply to a lack of parenting skill, particularly if the parents
were not supervised properly by their own parents. Summarizing the
findings of the Oregon Group, a team of social science researchers
under the leadership of Gerald R. Patterson of the Oregon Social
Learning Center, Travis Hirschi of the University of Arizona
[I]n order for the parent to teach
the child not to use force or fraud, the parent must
monitor the child's behavior;
recognize deviant behavior when it occurs; and
punish such behavior.
All that is required to activate the system is affection for or
investment in the child. The parent who cares for the child will
watch his behavior, see him doing things he should not do, and
correct him. Presto, a decent, socialized human being.
Summarizing the Oregon Group's work on parental skills,
Professor Kevin Wright advises: "Notice what the child is doing,
monitor it over long periods of time, model social skill behavior,
clearly state house rules, consistently provide some punishments
for transgressions, provide reinforcement for conformity, and
negotiate disagreement so the conflicts and crises do not escalate.
Monitoring children involves awareness of their companions,
whereabouts, and free-time activities. It also includes appropriate
communication, accountability of the child to the parents and the
amount of time spent with parents." A host of other studies confirm
that good supervision is at least as powerful as parental emotional
attachment to the child and other forms of indirect control.
Monitoring fills the child's need for parental attention, moral
education, and correction.
The children of single teenage mothers are more at risk for
later criminal behavior. One reason is that teenage single mothers
monitor their children less than older married mothers do. They are
more inclined to have an inconsistent, explosively angry approach
to disciplining their children. In such homes family members,
including children, generally use aggressive, coercive methods to
make sure their needs are met by others in the family. The parent's
inability to monitor a child's behavior compounds the hostility
between parent and child and leads to the first of the two major
stages in delinquency described by the Oregon Group:
[The first stage is a] breakdown in family management
procedures, producing an increase in antisocial behavior and an
impairment in social skills and application at school. [In] the
second stage, during adolescence, these conditions continue and the
disruptions in the parents' monitoring practices and the
adolescent's own poor social skills place him further at risk for
finding his community in a deviant peer group.
While parental monitoring and supervision obviously are good for
children, harsh or excessive discipline has just the opposite
effect. The parents of delinquents are harsher than ordinary
parents in punishing their children; and depressed, stressed, or
hostile parents more likely will vent their anger on their more
aggressive children. In the case of the single teenage mother, the
absence of the father increases the risk of harshness from the
mother. For these children, harsh punishment can mean parental
rejection. "Punishment that is too strict, frequent or severe can
lead to a greater probability of delinquency regardless of parental
attachments. That is, a strong parent-child bond will not lessen
the adverse impact of punishment that is too harsh."
family Condition Leading to crime #5:
Rejection of the Child
Jill Leslie Rosenbaum, professor of criminology at California
State University, writes: "Research consistently has shown that
those youth whose bond to their parents is weak are more likely to
be delinquent. [Y]outh who are more attached to their parents have
greater direct and indirect controls placed on their behavior."
As a child's emotional attachment to his parents ensures a well-
adjusted adult, so parental rejection of the child has powerful
opposite effects. Ronald Simons, professor of sociology at Iowa
State University, summarizes the research findings: "Rejected
children tend to distrust and attribute malevolent motives to
others, with the result being a defensive, if not aggressive,
approach to peer interactions.... Such [rejecting] parents not only
fail to model and reinforce prosocial behavior, they actually
provide training in aggressive noncompliant behavior."
Rejection by the family, which is the child's first and
fundamental "community," sets the stage for another social tragedy.
Rejected children tend gradually to drop out of normal community
life. Professor Simons continues: "Parental rejection... increased
the probability of a youth's involvement in a deviant peer group,
reliance upon an avoidant coping style, and use of substances."
Many other studies in the professional literature replicate these
family Condition Leading to crime #6:
Parental Abuse or Neglect
The professional literature is replete with findings of a
connection between future delinquency and criminal behavior and the
abuse and neglect visited upon children by their parents. This
abuse can be physical, emotional, or sexual. "Overwhelmingly,"
observes Patricia Koski, "studies conducted since 1964 have found a
positive correlation between parent-child
aggression-violence-abuse-physical punishment and aggression on the
part of the child." Or, as summarized by Cathy Spatz Widom,
professor of Criminal Justice and Psychology at Indiana University,
Bloomington, "Violence begets violence."
Studies of the official records of abused children and arrested
offenders put this connection in the range of 14 percent to 26
percent. But the connection triples to a range of 50 percent to 70
percent once researchers go beyond official reports of investigated
cases of child abuse to reports of abuse by the delinquents
Significantly, West Coast Crips and Bloods gang members almost
without exception grew up in dangerous family environments.
Typically, they left home to escape the violence or drifted away
because they were abandoned or neglected by their parents.
Consequently, these young men have developed a defensive world view
characterized by a feeling of vulnerability and a need to protect
oneself, a belief that no one can be trusted, a need to maintain
social distance, a willingness to use violence and intimidation to
repel others, an attraction to similarly defensive people, and an
expectation that no one will come to their aid. Young women
delinquents who run away from home are also frequently victims of
The close connection between child abuse and violent crime is
highlighted also in a 1988 study of the 14 juveniles then condemned
to death in the United States: 12 had been brutally abused, and 5
had been sodomized by relatives.
Child sexual or physical abuse alone can outweigh many other
factors in contributing to violent crime but affects boys and girls
differently. Abuse visited upon girls is more likely to result in
depression (the inversion of anger) or psychiatric hospitalization
than in the more outwardly directed hostility of abused males.
According to Cathy Spatz Widom, "Early childhood victimization has
demonstrable long-term consequences for delinquency, adult
criminality, and violent behavior.... The experience of child abuse
and neglect has a substantial impact even on individuals with
otherwise little likelihood of engaging in officially recorded
family Condition Leading to crime #7:
Patterns of crime are transmitted from generation to
In a longitudinal study of 394 families in England, David P.
Farrington, professor of criminology at Cambridge University, found
that approximately 4 percent of these families accrued almost half
of the convictions of the entire sample. "The fact that delinquency
is transmitted from one generation to the next is indisputable....
[F]ewer than 5 percent of the families accounted for almost half of
the criminal convictions in the entire sample.... In order to
achieve such concentration of crime in a small number of families,
it is necessary that the parents and the brothers and sisters of
offenders also be unusually likely to commit criminal acts."
The findings for England, though dramatic and for a different
culture and country, comport with the earlier U.S. research as
summarized by Professor Kevin Wright of the State University of New
York at Binghamton:
The Gluecks determined that delinquents were more
likely than nondelinquents to have delinquent fathers and mothers.
Subsequent studies supported the Gluecks' findings, observing that
delinquent boys were more likely to have delinquent or criminal
parents. In a study of the families of black delinquents in St.
Louis, Robins found that a child's delinquent behavior was
associated with 1) arrests of one or both of the parents in their
adult years, and 2) a history of juvenile delinquency on the part
of the parents. Children with two parents with criminal histories
were at extremely high risk of delinquency.
Girls involved in crime tend to mate with (if not marry) men
with criminal records. Jill Leslie Rosenbaum of California State
University, describing young delinquent women in her study, states:
"[T]he men in the wards' lives bore a striking resemblance to the
men chosen by their mothers. Many were significantly older than the
girls and had criminal records."
STAGE TWO: JUVENILE DELINQUENCY
Community Experience Leading to crime
#1: A Child's Rejection by Other Children
For most normal children, going to school is their first serious
step into the broader community. But for future delinquents, this
first experience pushes them further down the spiral toward
delinquency and crime. Because of their family experiences, these
children already are aggressive and hostile. Normal, emotionally
attached children avoid them -- in effect isolating and rejecting
them. As a result, they seek compatible company elsewhere, in a
group where they feel they belong.
As Ronald Simons, professor of sociology at Iowa State
University, writes, "Ineffective parents produce aggressive first
graders who are rejected by their peers and as a consequence must
form friendships with other deviant youth." Likewise, Gerald
Patterson of the Oregon Social Learning Center says: "Poor social
skills, characterized by aversive or coercive interaction styles,
lead directly to rejection by normal peers." Patterson, the leading
expert in this area, also makes the point that peer rejection tends
to be linked to ineffective parenting: "Specifically, early parent
failures contribute to later skills deficits.... Parent skills in
solving family problems correlate significantly with measures of
academic skill and peer relations." In a study of 1,224 grade
school boys, James D. Roff, professor of psychology at Eastern
Michigan University, concludes that the boy at highest risk of
becoming delinquent "was characterized by aggressive behavior in
the context of peer rejection."
Closed off from the community of their peers, future criminals
search out companions who feel comfortable with them. Not
surprisingly, these companions are similarly aggressive-hostile
children with whom they feel at ease and by whom they are accepted.
The group thus reinforces its own aggressive-hostile ways and
gradually rejects the conventional ways of normally attached
children. Continued disruption at home, parents' continued use of
harsh discipline, and the continued absence of a father all add to
the growing hostility of these future delinquents. Association with
delinquent peers -- almost all of whom come from similar family and
parental backgrounds -- is the next significant development on the
path to habitual crime.
Community Experience Leading to crime
#2: Failure at School
By the age of five or six, small children who are deprived of
parental love and supervision have become hostile and aggressive
and therefore have greater difficulty forming friendships with
normal children. This hostility also undermines their school work
and success. Professor David P. Farrington's Cambridge University
study finds a high correlation between school adjustment problems
and later delinquency: "Youths who dislike school and teachers, who
do not get involved in school activities, and who are not committed
to educational pursuits are more likely than others to engage in
Future criminals tend not to have good verbal memory at school
or the ability to grasp the meaning of concepts, including moral
concepts. They generally fail to learn reading and computation
skills, undermining their performance in the middle grades. They
often fail in the later grades and have no or low aspirations for
school or work. They begin to be truant and eventually drop out of
school in their teens. Typically, before they drop out of school
they already have begun a serious apprenticeship in crime by having
far higher rates of delinquency than do those who graduate.
Once again, all these problems are rooted in unfavorable family
conditions. In a study on juvenile delinquency, Merry Morash,
professor of criminology at Michigan State University, analyzed
four large data sets: the British-funded Cambridge Study of
Delinquent Development and the U.S. federally funded National
Longitudinal Study of Youth, National Survey of Children, and
Philadelphia Cohort study. Examining these four large studies of
the development of children, particularly the connection between
home , education, and crime, she concludes: "[The] mother's [young]
age is related to delinquency primarily through its association
with low hopes for education, negative school experiences, father
absence, and limited monitoring of the child."
Consider the bleak impact of these family conditions on the
future of the education system and the next generation of students.
In the mid- 1980s, the Chancellor of the New York City school
system was complaining: "We are in a situation now where 12,000 of
the 60,000 kindergartners have mothers who are still in their
teenage years, and where 40 percent of our students come from
single parent households." But since then, the national teenage
out-of-wedlock birth rate has grown by 50 percent, from 30 births
per 1,000 unmarried teenage girls in 1982 to 45 per 1,000 in
Community Experience Leading to crime
#3: The Growth of the Gang
Commenting on the work of all parents as their children enter
adolescence, Travis Hirschi of the University of Arizona
Affection and monitoring had better have done the job
already, because the "child-rearing" days are over. It is time to
hope for the best.... [A] major feature of recent times is the
increasing independence of adolescents from the family.... This
independence from the family results in increasing dependence of
the adolescent on other adolescents. But adolescents cannot take
the place of parents as socializing agents because they have little
or no investment in the outcome, and are less likely to recognize
All children, especially during their teenage years, gravitate
toward the influence of their peers. Not surprisingly, as the
professional literature shows, delinquent peers move a boy in the
direction of delinquency and crime. The same is true for girls.
In the company of their peers, future criminals gradually learn
to exploit the people of their own community, a community to which
they feel no responsibility or obligation. For these boys,
increasingly involved with delinquent companions, their lives tend
to become insulated from the weakening influence of their families.
Continued weakness in parental supervision, monitoring, and control
invariably escalates the conflict at home, and this increasing
conflict and related family problems cause these children to deepen
their affiliation with delinquent groups, the only class of people
likely to welcome them "with a place to belong to." While the
children continue their aggressive, hostile, and violent ways,
their behavior also increasingly repels normal, non-aggressive
people. They grow more familiar and at ease with their delinquent
peers. Dropping out of school is a natural development.
STAGE THREE: THE COLLAPSE OF
Criminal youth tend to live in high-crime neighborhoods. Each
reinforces the other in a destructive relationship, spiraling
downward into violence and social chaos.
The 1980s witnessed an extraordinary increase in community
violence in most major American cities. In 1990, homicide in Boston
increased by over 40 percent over the previous year; in Denver, it
rose by 29 percent; in Chicago, Dallas, and New Orleans, by more
than 20 percent; in Los Angeles, by 16 percent; in New York, by 11
percent. In 1988, nationwide firearm death rates for all teenagers
for the first time exceeded the total for all other natural causes
of death combined, and black male teens were 11 times more likely
than their white counterparts to be killed by guns.
According to the national survey data, there is a clear
correlation between the surge in criminal violence in these largely
urban communities and the collapse of marriage. Professional
research in criminology also supports this conclusion.
Tragically for these communities, single-parent neighborhoods
tend to be high-crime neighborhoods. Researchers long ago observed
that violent crime, among both teenagers and adults, is
concentrated most heavily in urban neighborhoods characterized by a
very high proportion of single- parent families. More recent
figures indicate the illegitimate birth rate in many urban
neighborhoods is a staggering 80 percent. And today's researchers,
like those before them, find that a neighborhood composed mainly of
single-parent families invariably is a chaotic, crime-ridden
community in which assaults are high and the gang -- " the
delinquent subcommunity"-- assumes control. In these chaotic
conditions, parental supervision of adolescent and pre-adolescent
children is almost impossible. In turn, children living in these
neighborhoods are more likely to learn, accept, and use physical
violence to satisfy their wants and needs.
While serious crime is highest in these socially disorganized,
largely urban neighborhoods, however, its frequency is not a
function of race. The determining factor is absence of marriage.
Among broken families, with their chaotic, "dysfunctional"
relationships, whether white or black, the crime rate is very high.
Among married two-parent families, whether white or black, the
crime rate is very low. The capacity and determination to maintain
stable married relationships, not race, is the pivotal factor. The
chaotic, broken community stems from these chaotic, broken
families. The reason race appears to be an important factor in
crime is the wide differences in marriage rates among ethnic
While the crime rate among blacks has risen sharply, so has the
disappearance of marriage. The same holds true for whites.
A recent report from the state of Wisconsin further illustrates
the same relationship.
A high concentration of broken families without husbands and
fathers is the danger signal for future crime.
Violent families, violent youth, and violent communities.
Violent youth often come from violent parents. Violent youth are
the most likely to have witnessed conflict and violence between
their parents. They also are the most likely to commit serious
violent crime and to become "versatile" criminals -- those engaged
in a variety of crimes, including, theft, fraud, and drugs. Among
these youths, physically or sexually abused boys commit the most
Internal family violence is only one major contributor to
adolescent violence in these socially disorganized neighborhoods.
The neighborhood itself (which includes the youth's violent peers,
also rooted in their own broken families) is the other powerful
contributor, especially to violent delinquency, and its culture of
aggression and violence is imported into the school. Consider a
recent report from the Centers for Disease Control:
More than 4 per cent of high school students in Grades
9-12 had carried a firearm at least once in the past 30 days, and
35.5 percent of those had carried six or more times during that
period. Thus, about 1.4 percent of high school students might be
considered regular gun carriers. Furthermore, more than 60 percent
of the students surveyed in Baltimore reported knowing someone who
had carried a gun to school.
Given the level of violence in their neighborhoods, for young
people to carry guns for self-defense is perhaps understandable.
And the youth most likely to feel the need for defense is the
member of a street gang in a violent neighborhood. After he has
committed his first violent crime, the evidence shows that he is
likely to commit further crimes and more than twice as likely as
other criminal youths to commit more violence. Various studies
indicate that violent crime is much more likely to come to the
attention of the police and lead to investigation and arrest. For
example, Franklyn W. Dunford and Delbert S. Elliott of the
Behavioral Research Institute at Boulder, Colorado, find that young
violent criminals are more likely than others to be arrested.
As a result of the low arrest rate for criminals, even the
alarming official crime figures do not give policymakers a true
picture of what is happening in high-crime communities. According
to Dunford and Elliott, 93 percent of those committing between 100
and 200 offenses between 1976 and 1978 were not arrested, while 81
percent of the youth responsible for more than 200 offenses during
the same two-year period were not arrested. Explains Dunford:
"These data suggest that only those at the extreme have any risk of
arrest, and even that risk is not high. It appears that the volume
of crime committed by these youth may be such that arrest is a
function of chance alone. The police may, figuratively, be
stumbling over them. The likelihood of arrest is close to zero
until one reports in excess of 100 total offenses." Elsewhere in
the same study, Dunford reports: "Of the 242 [career criminals] 86
percent had no record of arrest. In other words, the overwhelming
majority of self-reported career offenders were never arrested
during a three year period when they were involved in very frequent
and serious criminal offenses."
Given the very high frequency of undetected crime by career
(expert) criminals, the other dramatic finding from the Cambridge
University study of British delinquents may hold for the United
States as well: that 50 percent of all crime probably comes from
less than 5 percent of the delinquents' families.
The family versus the "Hood." Two researchers from the National
Institute of Mental Health, John E. Richters and Pedro Martinez,
have studied families in high-risk inner-city neighborhoods. Their
study indicates that only 6 percent of children from stable, safe
homes become delinquent. Meanwhile, 18 percent of children from
homes rated as either unstable or unsafe (broken marriage or lack
of supervision) became delinquent, but 90 percent of children from
homes rated as both unstable and unsafe became delinquent. Only 10
percent did not.
Such studies show that the family is fighting desperately with
the violent neighborhood for the future of its children. The good
news is that even in violent and crime-ridden neighborhoods, "good
families" are winning the battle, though a 6 percent juvenile
delinquency failure rate is still a tragedy for them. Even the
troubled family is winning, with its 82 percent success rate,
though the one-in-five delinquency rate means that every second
family has had a family member in jail. Remarkably, even 10 percent
of children from the most unstable and unsafe families somehow
survive and escape a life of crime. The 90 percent delinquency rate
among their siblings may be inevitable, for these are the families
with the highest concentration of neglectful and abusive parents
who would warp any child.
The discussion of delinquency generally focuses on boys because
most violent crime is committed by males. But while male and female
delinquents have similar experiences, the quality of the intimate
family relations of delinquent females often is much worse. They
tend to be even less attached to, and to have more problems with,
their mothers than do male delinquents. They are even more firmly
rejected by their female school peers than are their male
counterparts. And, in turn, they are even more firmly attached to
their own "bad companions" -- the delinquent peer group -- than are
males to theirs.
Professor Jill Rosenbaum of California State University paints a
graphic picture of the early life of a female delinquent. The
relationship between family breakdown or disintegration and later
criminal status is dramatic:
In 1980, records were requested on 240 women who had
been committed to the California Youth Authority (CYA), the state
agency for juvenile offenders.... family Structure: Very few (seven
percent) of these girls came from intact homes families.... By the
time these girls were 16, their mothers had been married an average
of four times, and there was an average of 4.3 children per
family.... family Criminality: seventy six percent of the girls
came from families where there was a record of criminality....
family Violence: Although much data on family violence are missing,
it is evident that violence was present in many of these homes....
family Conflict: In the two parent families (mainly step families)
examined in this study a great deal of conflict was present. Of
these parents, 71 percent fought regularly about the children.
Since there were often his, hers and theirs present, the sources of
conflict tended to result from one set of children having a bad
influence on the others, the type of punishment invoked, or one
particular child receiving too much attention.... Conflict over the
use of alcohol was present in 81 percent of the homes.... Parent-
Child Relationships: A Poor relationship between parent and child
is highly influential in the child's subsequent delinquency....
Many of the girls received very little positive feedback from
parents in the home. Of the fathers who were present, 53 percent
were viewed by parole officers as rejecting of the girl, as were 47
percent of the mothers. Rejection came in many forms.... The
mothers appeared to be not only neglectful, but 96 percent were
described as passive and 67 percent as irresponsible....
Generational Cycles: The mothers of the CYA wards tend to marry
young, with 44% having had the ward by the time she was 18. These
daughters tended to follow in their mothers' footsteps and begin
bearing children at an early age.... Parents often encouraged this
behavior. One mother explained to her daughter's parole officer
that she was happy to hear that her 15-year-old daughter was
pregnant --" That is what women are supposed to do."... The men in
the wards' lives bore a striking resemblance to the men chosen by
their mothers. Many were significantly older than the girls and had
criminal records.... The Mothers: The wards' mothers did not have
the supports or resources needed to cope with their environments.
They often were socially isolated and distrusted those attempting
to help. They viewed welfare workers as those trying to take away
funds and social workers as trying to take away their children.
These attitudes and fears began long before the wards were born
perhaps even before their mothers were born. The mothers of the CYA
girls did not know how to be mothers, for they were often children
themselves when their children were born, and lacked the emotional
resources to instill a sense of trust and security necessary for
self esteem and growth. Over time, just trying to survive depleted
whatever emotional resources they might once have had.
THE SOCIAL CONDITIONS OF A SAFE
Most ordinary Americans do not need to survey the social science
literature to know that a family life of affection, cohesion, and
parental involvement prevents delinquency. In particular, they know
almost instinctively that maternal affection, maternal
self-confidence, and the father's esteem for the mother are among
the critical elements in raising well-balanced children. The
literature bears out these common-sense assumptions. Most
Americans, too, know that in a law-abiding family the parents
encourage the moral development of their children and promote an
understanding and acceptance of traditional moral norms. Again, the
professional literature reinforces these common-sense maxims. As
Professor Wright observes:
The existing literature on the topic [of normative
development] includes a study by Mak that found that a belief in
law was negatively associated with several measures of delinquency
for both boys and girls. Mak further reported that feelings of
empathy are inversely related to seriousness, vandalism, and
assault for girls and cheating and assault for boys. Agnew found
that a belief that it is good to be honest and to avoid cheating
was associated with a reduced likelihood of delinquency. Smith and
Paternoster discovered that moral beliefs reduced the likelihood of
marijuana use among both males and females. Paternoster and
Triplettobserved that moral beliefs were related to both the
incidence and prevalence of marijuana use, theft, and
Moreover, most Americans know that this moral development of
children usually is accomplished within the context of religious
belief and practice. The government's own surveys of the
professional literature confirm this view. To continue from
Professor Wright's review of the literature for the Justice
Another study found that attachment to church was
inversely related to violence. And, finally Tolan found that the
moral-religious emphasis within the family... was related to
Rodney Stark says that delinquency rises or falls in a high
school to the extent to which the high schools contain a majority
of religious students. This fits with the findings that among black
men incarcerated and those not is that those who do not commit
crime participated in church activities and had friends who went to
church. By contrast those who were incarcerated had deviant friends
and did not go to church.
The Crucial Elements
The root cause of violent crime thus is found in failed intimate
relationships of love in marriage and in the family. The breakdown
of stable communities into crime-infested neighborhoods flows
directly from this failure. In contrast, addressing the root causes
of crime requires an understanding of the crucial elements of
supportive family and community life.
First in importance and influence is the basic marriage
commitment. Its vital importance is starkly evident in the
catastrophic impact of its absence.
Second is the relationship of love between parents and children,
a love expressed primarily in supervision.
Third, stemming from the first and second, is the child's
ability to relate to other children.
Fourth, the backbone of strong neighborhoods, is friendship and
cooperation between families.
It is no coincidence that one of the central rules in the
traditional moral codes of all communities at all times, in all
places, and in all cultures is the prohibition against giving birth
to children outside of marriage. Societies all over the world have
recognized that this prohibition is essential to social stability
and to raising members of each new generation with the proper
respect for their community and their peers. Unfortunately, and
with disastrous consequences, this prohibition is ignored today in
American society at all levels, but most especially in central-city
neighborhoods. Having a child outside of marriage virtually
guarantees a teenage woman and her children a life of poverty, low
education, low expectations, and low achievement. It gradually puts
in place the conditions which foster rejection and, ultimately,
Whenever there is too high a concentration of such broken
families in any community, that community will disintegrate. Only
so many dysfunctional families can be sustained before the moral
and social fabric of the community itself breaks down.
Re-establishment of the basic community code of children within
marriage is necessary both for the future happiness of American
families and for a reduction in violent crime.
It follows, then, that the real work of reducing violent crime
is the work of rebuilding the family. Institutions in the
community, such as the church and the school, have demonstrated
their importance in helping to restore stability. Government
agencies, on the other hand, are powerless to increase marital and
parental love; they are powerless to increase or guarantee care and
attention in a family; they are powerless to increase the ability
of adults to make and keep commitments and agreements. Instead,
thanks to policies that do little to preserve the traditional
family and much to undermine it, government continues to
misdiagnose the root cause of social collapse as an absence of
goods and services. This misdiagnosis is government's own
contribution to the growth of crime. Having misdiagnosed, it
There is an irreplaceable role for political leadership in the
current crisis. It is not to take the place of family and
community, however, but to articulate a compelling, positive vision
of the nation in terms of family and community life. As President
John F. Kennedy inspired thousands of young people to serve others
overseas, another must inspire today's youth to rebuild America's
families and community. This is the work not of government, but of
the nation's primary nurturing institutions: family, church, and
school. The missions of these institutions are missions of love and
the moral and the spiritual formation of a people.
The alternative is continued social disintegration.
WHAT GOVERNMENT CAN DO
Hold hearings on the real causes of crime.
Given the disconnect between the assumptions behind the social
spending in the Omnibus crime Bill of 1994 and the real root causes
of crime, a major correction in thinking is needed. The Judiciary
Committees of Congress should conduct a series of hearings on the
root causes -- the long-term causes -- of crime. These should focus
on the relationship of family structure, and particularly of
marriage and religious practice, to the prevention of violent
crime. The literature, the scholarship, and particularly the
experience are wide and deep.
Conduct a serious review of all national social programs.
Congress ought to conduct a comprehensive review of all national
social programs, inviting the director of each program to present
the evaluation data on the program's effectiveness (or lack of it)
in reducing crime.
Commission geographical mapping of social problems and their
Congress should require the Departments of Health and Human
Services, Justice, Labor, and Commerce to provide it with
geographical mapping of the conditions known to be related to crime
and other social problems. Among the problem indices that should be
The different types of crime;
Long-term welfare dependency (over two years);
Domestic violence, by types;
Sexually transmitted diseases, including AIDS.
Congress also should require information to examine the
relationships between other social indicators and the lack of
crime. Among the social strengths that should be mapped:
Presence of intact primary marriages (comparing these with
alternative family structures, from blended families of different
types to different forms of single-parent families);
Attendance of adults and children at religious institutions;
Religious education indices (attendance at religion-based
schools and at supplementary religion classes);
Volunteer activity in social service associations. By mapping at
the smallest geographical unit possible (county, zip code, or even
smaller), many research benefits can be derived.
Request research on the effects on children of the
intergenerational transmission of the single-parent family
Congress ought to request summary descriptive and comparative
research on how the children of first, second, third, and fourth
generation single-parent families fare on indices of health and
development, as well as social competence, during and by the end of
their growing years. While we do have some knowledge of the impact
of out-of-wedlock birth and single-parent family life on children,
we do not know about multiple- generation effects. This knowledge
could be very salutary.
Reform the welfare system.
welfare today is a destructive Faustian bargain between all
potential mothers and the government. As the condition for
receiving cash -- as opposed to real community support -- the
system requires that women and girls abandon the traditional moral
code. Explains Heritage Foundation Senior Policy Analyst Robert
Rector: "The woman has a contract with the government: She will
continue to receive her 'paycheck' as long as she fulfills two
conditions: 1) She must not work; and 2) She must not marry an
Whatever good intentions were served by the welfare system, the
evidence shows that its perverse financial incentives discourage
the formation of intact families and the pursuit of work. These are
the outcomes of the current "community code" on which high-crime
neighborhoods are built. Thus, current government policy is a
powerful facilitator of the long-term rise in the crime rate.
Legislation is needed to end the destructive features of the
welfare system. Instead of sending paychecks to single mothers,
such a reformed system should channel money to local institutions
and levels of government that can pull the mother toward helping
groups in the community and pull the community toward the mother
and child in need of help.
Legislation introduced by Senator Lauch Faircloth (R-NC) and
Representative James Talent (R-MO) (S.2134 and H.R.4566) in the
103rd Congress takes these necessary steps and would foster a
different community code. Money now used to support these broken
and unformed families could be given instead to the local community
to allow it to decide how best to help families in need, including
newly formed, father-abandoned families. The community could
disburse this money, at its discretion, to organizations committed
to rebuilding the lives of these broken families.
Promote -- through leadership in ideas, not national funding --
volunteer community efforts, including the efforts of religious
Amid the social collapse of so many urban neighborhoods, there
are stunning examples of successful efforts to turn around the
lives of young people previously immersed in crime. These efforts
invariably possess two features. One is a strong system of rules
within an organization characterized by the love and firm guidance
seen in a supportive family. The other is a strong spiritual
dimension, most commonly a profound religious commitment.
Examples of this type of program abound.
Example: Leon Watkins of South Central Los Angeles, convinced
that gangs fill a void for those who join them, helps them do it in
a way that bridges to society. According to Watkins, being in a
gang is like a religious commitment; there are codes of conduct and
service to a higher good than oneself: the gang itself. Watkins
shows gang members how to be true to all that attracts them to the
gang and yet be true to themselves and society around them. The
spiritual inspiration behind all his efforts becomes clear to the
youth. They learn how to become aware of the spiritual dimension of
Example: The Reverend Lee Earl started a church in one of the
most desolate sections of Detroit, a neighborhood whose economy was
built on drugs, prostitution, and welfare. Within a decade the same
neighborhood and the same inhabitants, under the inspiration of the
spiritual leadership of Rev. Earl, motivated by a trust in God, had
rebuilt their community. They became married families, started
small businesses, and rebuilt and bought out their own homes. crime
plummeted and a community was reborn.
Giving people a place to belong and hope in a future, hope
communicated through inspiring leadership, is common to all these
successes. Giving a neglected child a place to belong -- someone to
belong to -- is communicated through the spirit of a giving person,
something beyond social work alone. It involves a long-term
personal relationship with a child. These relationships do not take
money, but they do take a generous commitment of personal time, as
in Big Brothers and Big Sisters. Government cannot purchase these
efforts. If it tries, it will vitiate them by turning moral
relationships into monetary ones.
Promote, through leadership in ideas, the benefits to the nation
of regular worship at religious institutions.
The importance of codes of conduct and religious practice can
hardly be overstated. According to the professional literature,
active participation in a church significantly correlates with
decreased incidence of crime. Expansion of active church membership
and religious worship in a community contributes to the reduction
Government cannot re-empower religious institutions, for their
essential nature is moral and spiritual. But it can be less hostile
to their traditional areas of competence and mission. The potential
for good among many religiously inspired schools, especially in
America's inner cities, is well-known. But Congress and the courts
insist that the price of government cooperation in education is
noncooperation among the three nurturing institutions of family,
church, and school. This strategy weakens communities.
Conduct inner-city experiments with school vouchers.
Schools that maintain discipline and strong moral values can
help support families that value these virtues and may make a
difference in communities that have broken down. Parents need to be
able to select such schools when their children are at risk. To
give parents this choice, states and localities can be encouraged
to offer vouchers to lower-income families. So far states have
resisted conducting these experiments. The federal government ought
to finance and evaluate six to twelve such local
Recent poll data in California and New Jersey confirm the
general pattern of support for vouchers: not surprisingly, it is
the poor who most want vouchers for private schools for their
children. The poor well understand the importance of good schools
in giving young people in crime- ridden neighborhoods the chance
for a productive life. Private and religious schools have the major
advantage of being able to instill and enforce a moral code for
teachers, children, and parents. This is just the help that parents
in fragile, crime-ridden communities desperately need. In the
battle between the family and the "Hood," such schools can be
crucial allies for parents. Vouchers provide the constitutional and
financial means for this close and effective cooperation between
school and family in the moral formation of children.
Remove barriers to adoption.
Many children would have the benefit of a stable, two-parent
family -- reducing the probability that they would descend into
crime -- if adoption were made easier. Unfortunately, there are
many frustrating barriers to adoption.
The largest barrier is the ethos of the social services
establishment, which discourages adoption as the preferred option
for a young unmarried mother and her child. The best way to deal
with this is to provide competition by allowing other institutions
to provide adoption services. One of the best competitors could be
the nation's churches, which have great outreach to young pregnant
women and to couples desiring to adopt. Black churches are
particularly well poised to perform this function and are likely to
take care of balancing the needs of the child in racial matching of
the parents where possible while also ensuring a speedy adoption,
no matter who the parents are. However, liability law needs to be
changed to remove obstacles to churches, particularly small
churches, wishing to provide this natural form of charity.
Reduce taxes on marriage and children.
The federal tax code discriminates against the institution of
marriage and the raising of children. Since the early 1950s, the
tax system each year has increased the tax burden at a much faster
rate on families raising children than on any other form of
household. Talk of "family" values is largely meaningless if it
does not address this central economic relationship between
government and family, a relationship that will always be there, no
matter the levels of social problems. A government intent on doing
its limited best in the long-term prevention of crime will adjust
its tax code to reflect the fundamental importance of stable
marriage to the social order.
The federal government can and should reform features of the tax
code that hurt families with children -- particularly low-income
working families. One such egregious feature is the "marriage
penalty" on fathers and mothers who move from cohabitation to
married family status. Another step Congress can take is to enact
tax credits or other tax relief for parents with children.
Adjusting the tax system to benefit the intact family silently but
powerfully upholds marriage and the family.
The professional literature of criminology is surprisingly
consistent on the real root causes of violent crime: the breakdown
of the family and community stability. The sequence has its deepest
roots in the absence of stable marriage.
Despite the good news that overall crime rates have dropped in
recent years, the frightening news is that both the level and
viciousness of teenage violent crime have been rising steadily.
More ominous still, this was set in motion sixteen to eighteen
years ago, when these violent teenagers were born into chaotic
family and social conditions. Since then these conditions have
become more prevalent, and we will see a continued rise in violent
teenage crime. Furthermore, America is headed toward a 50 percent
out-of-wedlock birthrate sometime in the next twelve to twenty
years, inching more and more of the country closer to today's
inner-city illegitimacy rate. If this trend is not reversed,
Americans must prepare for extensive and serious erosion of public
safety and practical freedoms.
Government can staff and manage the criminal justice system
efficiently and prevent crime in the short term by locking up
violent teenage criminals so that they are no longer a danger to
others. But it lacks both the capacity and competence to tackle the
root causes of crime. That is the mission of three other basic
institutions of society: the family, the church, and the school.
For close to five decades government has increasingly burdened
these institutions -- has even become hostile to them. It is now
time to help these institutions fulfill their missions by reversing
course and removing these burdens.
However, it will take real leadership -- leadership through
ideas and passionately meant words -- to inspire us all to
cooperate in rebuilding our marriages, families, neighborhoods, and
communities. That is the appropriate work for America's political
leaders and statesmen.