Another paper I wrote for State and Local Government class, suprise, suprise, it leads to families again!
Today, state and local governments are swamped with crime and its far-reaching consequences. These entities bear the majority of the burden of criminal activity. The costs are not always measurable. American families living in cities and counties pay for criminal behaviors in many ways, from taxes, and fear, to heartache. Although it is rarely discussed, healthy marriages and families are the antidote to a large portion of these problems.
The responsibility of state and local governments in punishing criminals is a heavy one. They were never intended to address the size of the problems we encounter today. Ann Bowman and Richard Kearney explain, “criminal justice is overwhelmingly a state and local government responsibility.” (479). State and local expenses total more than $110 billion and employ 1.6 million people. These numbers are staggering, and local governments are responsible for about 60% of this burden (457). Local governments are responsible for funding and staffing of local police departments, jails, courts, probation offices, investigators, social workers and emergency services. These services are very expensive causing taxes and fees on citizens to be continually increased.
Crime is a continual challenge for governments because new criminals are introduced in each successively larger generation about the time that some of the previous generation of criminals have settled down or been locked up. The rise of new opportunities, as well as social problems such as the breakup of the natural family, has led to a continual increase in criminal activity. Crime also continually evolves as laws change and criminals attempt to block our efforts to stop them. In a free and open society, citizens are free to make choices about their actions predictably creating more opportunity for criminal activity than a closed, oppressed society will offer. Free citizens must be ever watchful for new criminal activity. We lock our homes and cars, we protect our financial information, and we are nervous after dark.
As harsh, swift punishments have decreased, criminals have had less incentive to obey laws. Prisons are not as uncomfortable as they were in earlier years, becoming like the parents of a young child. They provide a bed, healthy meals, sometimes jobs and even educational opportunities for criminals, free of charge in most cases, although also strictly regulating outside contact, opportunities for outdoor activity, personal possessions, and potentially harmful activities. Prison sentences can sometimes offer an easier and healthier lifestyle to its residents than they would have been able to achieve outside of prison. Prisons have also been accused of accidentally educating criminals in more effective criminal behaviors, as if it were a long-lasting criminal convention. In short, prisons are quite useless as a solution to the problem of stopping new criminal behavior. However prisons, which remove lawless elements from society, are essential in any community that produces criminals, in order to provide for the safety of its law abiding citizens.
As the police and court systems have struggled to absorb this ever increasing burden, punishments and consequences are inevitably postponed. Crime has also become harder to investigate despite new technologies and especially as a result of more laws regulating police and investigators. Prosecutions have become more difficult. Criminal investigations and prosecutions will sometimes languish for years before they can be finally resolved.
In the last century the number of single parent families has risen sharply, creating a breeding ground for criminal behavior. An increase in children, abandoned by fathers being parented by exhausted, stressed-out single mothers has resulted in many of them turning to lawless behavior. Michael Tanner, Director of Health and Welfare Studies, testifying before the Senate explained, “Children from single-parent families are more likely to become involved in criminal activity. According to one study, children raised in single-parent families are one-third more likely to exhibit anti-social behavior.” He goes on to defend this statement by quoting Barbara Defoe,
“The relationship [between single-parent families and crime] is so strong that controlling for family configuration erases the relationship between race and crime and between low income and crime. This conclusion shows up time and again... The nation's mayors, as well as police officers, social workers, probation officers, and court officials, consistently point to family break up as the most important source of rising rates of crime”.
Jennifer Morse, a researcher at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, found that healthy intact families are the laboratory for developing “the basic self-control and reciprocity that a free society takes for granted.” She goes on to wisely point out that children “need to develop self-control so they can … do the right thing even if it might benefit them to do otherwise.” Vitally important concepts and crucial habits are taught in these well functioning families. A stable, healthy, two-parent family is indispensable in children’s developmental process.
Fathers married and caring for their children’s mothers are the fundamental solution to a significant portion of the crime in America. Studies have shown that “over the past thirty years, the rise in violent crime parallels the rise in families abandoned by fathers.”(Fagan). The Heritage Foundation has found that “high-crime neighborhoods are characterized by high concentrations of families abandoned by fathers. The rate of violent teenage crime corresponds with the number of families abandoned by fathers.” Indeed, they found that “a 10 percent increase in the percentage of children living in single-parent homes leads typically to a 17 percent increase in juvenile crime.” Incredibly, as early as 1829, researchers established “that family disintegration resulting from the death, desertion, or divorce of parents led to undisciplined children who eventually became criminals.” (Fagan). Yet for years Americans have ignorantly refused to discuss this fact in deference to misplaced tolerance and compassion.
Contrary to what many girls are taught by modern feminists, having happy, well cared for mothers in the home watching over children’s tendencies and guiding them to good habits and character will greatly benefit society as they help train and love their children lessening criminality and creating well-adjusted future citizens. Stable, attentive parents lovingly administering swift and certain discipline will train children to discipline themselves, understand consequences, and who will be more likely to appreciate law abiding behavior. If not taught these things, “society will have to manage his behavior in some other way. He may have to be rehabilitated, incarcerated, or otherwise restrained. In this case, prisons will substitute for parents.” (Morse).
Broken families don’t just affect their unhappy children. Marriage and family has an important civilizing influence on men too. “Unwed fathers are more likely to use drugs and become involved in criminal behavior. Indeed, single men are five times more likely to commit violent crimes than married men” (Tanner). Men need the loving bond and heavy responsibilities of providing for their children and wives in order to adequately control their own violent tendencies.
Healthy marriages between a man and a woman seem to be an indicator of a safe society. When marriages fail, society pays the price in higher taxes, crime rates, drug and alcohol addictions, abuse of women and children, poor educational outcomes, and unhappiness in general. The heavy burdens on state and local government and its agencies are increased. There is no government program that can adequately replace a healthy and functioning family. If America wants to lower its crime rate it seems reasonable that this significant source, single parent families, should be discussed. Often in an effort to avoid burdening these struggling families, Americans avoid meaningful discussions of this very considerable cause of criminal behavior. If we continue to throw money at the criminal justice system while ignoring the family’s contribution to this societal ill, we will never escape the swamp of crime and its far-reaching consequences. America will never solve the problems and instead will be forced to regulate and tax citizens into oppression, all the while living in continual fear and not-so blissful ignorance of our own contributions to our self-made misery.
Bowman, Ann and Richard Kearney. State and Local Government. Boston. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2005.
Tanner, Michael. Cato Instiutite. “Congressional Testimony.” 7 June 1995. Accessed 12 Feb 2007.
Morse, Jennifer Roback. Hoover Institution. “Parents or Prisons.” August and September 2003.Stanford University. Accessed 15 Feb 2007.
Fagan,Patrick. The Heritage Foundation. “The Real Root Causes of Violent Crime: The Breakdown of Marriage, Family, and Community.” 17 March 1995. Accessed 15 Feb 2007.