For they have sown the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind.… (Hosea 8:7)
The most appalling thing about the crime news today is that so many offenses are being committed by people who ought to be on the front line of delinquency prevention! Here are some stories that appeared in a recent edition of a New York newspaper. A city policeman was sent to Sing Sing for selling police uniforms to two former convicts who were planning a holdup. Seventeen parents, including a mother of 12 children, were arrested in relief frauds. The controller of a city hospital was ousted for failure to “carry out properly” the responsibility of his office. A commissioner of jurors in Ulster County was accused of lying to a grand jury investigating alleged kickback practices in purchases of road equipment. A 26 year-old Brooklyn school teacher was guilty on vice charges.
There was other crime news in that edition. The state’s attorney general told housewives to be on guard against fraudulent business firms. A front page story told of a juke box industry leader whose life was threatened by hoodlums using union fronts. The governor was preparing a special message to the legislature on “the method for the handling of organized crime in New York State.”
Day after day newspapers all over the country are carrying this kind of news. We have indeed a serious situation, and we cannot minimize it by saying that these cases of policeman, parents, and public officials are isolated incidents. They are the leaven that leaveneth the whole lump.
The pathetic aspect, of course, about this crime picture is not the hoodlums, racketeers, and gangsters that figure into the scene, but the wanton disregard for law by men and women in high places who have daily and intimate contact with children, and whose jobs in one way or another involve law enforcement.
Climate For Delinquency
We read of further instances. A New York City youth board counselor was recently fired for supplying a teenager with narcotics. A social worker for a private agency was dismissed for giving a boy liquor. The mayor of a small town was picked up in a subway restroom on a morals charge. By giving a “bottle” to the right person, a lawyer got a client off jury duty. A well-known hotel executive and trustee for a social agency was indicted for evasion of $80,000 in income taxes.
These are the people whose graft, greed, and gross offenses are making a favorable climate for juvenile delinquency. These are the men and women whose sin, cynicism, and insincerity are creating an atmosphere in which our children must live and breathe and have their being. These are the individuals whose chiseling, cheating, and chicanery cause today’s boys and girls to become confused, incorrigible, or criminally inclined.
What then is juvenile delinquency? It is but the reflection of adult modes, morals, and methods. Actually, there is no form of juvenile vice, violence, or viciousness that does not have its counterpart on the adult level.
High school boys, even girls, extort money from younger and weaker children. But does not this same practice flourish, often with the tacit blessing of public officials, among racketeers and unscrupulous union leaders?
Sex crimes among teenagers are increasing. But recently the papers told about businessmen who landed lush contracts with the lure of beautiful call girls. That Brooklyn school teacher was supposed to have been one of them. Arrests in New York for prostitution and commercialized vice rose from 2,304 in 1957 to 2,374 in 1958.
Often we find juvenile gangs organized along national and ethnic lines. The newspaper that was mentioned before also carried this headline: “Virginia Area Backs All-White Classes.” Will we not face it? Our children live and breathe in the air of injustice, intolerance, and indifference. We have not solved the racial problem at the adult level. Men and women have their hate groups; and boys and girls have theirs. Children are simply the imitators of adult behavior.
Most adults in our communities belong to some kind of organization, whether it be for prestige, privilege, or profit. The majority of these groups use pressure, propaganda, and politics to gain their ends. Some even resort to violence and strong-armed methods. “Scabs” are beaten. Labor leaders are abused. Plants and machinery are damaged. But, they say, it is all for the cause. After the same manner, boys and girls band together for what at their level of thinking and understanding constitutes “legitimate” ends too. Teenagers often join gangs under duress or for self-protection. Yet, are not these the very same reasons men and women join unions and political clubs?
I do not believe that children today need the stimulus of television, tabloids, or theatres to become delinquent. Nor do they need to be goaded or prodded into violence by Hollywood, horror comics, or headlines. So long as adults live the loose, lax and lewd lives that they do, we can hardly expect boys and girls to be different. And so long as men and women chisel on tax returns and show racial discrimination, the children will cheat in school examinations and reinforce their juvenile gangs. What a lot of us are trying to do, I am afraid, is have two standards—one for adults and one for children. But boys and girls are not going to let us get away with it. According to the latest juvenile delinquency statistics, our children are more than determined that we shall reap the whirlwind.
New York Crime
Let us look at New York City’s police department report for 1958 and observe this whirlwind that is beginning to reach hurricane proportions. There were 11,570 arrests during that year for juvenile delinquency as compared to 9,886 during 1957, making an increase of 17 per cent.
Most alarming is the fact that juvenile arrests rose higher in the categories of murder, felonious assault, rape, burglary, grand larceny of autos, and dangerous weapons. In the 16 to 20 year-old age group there was a total of 18,760 arrests compared to 15,317 arrests in 1957—an increase of 22.5 per cent.
Major crime as reported to the Federal Bureau of Investigation increased 6.7 per cent in New York City. In 1958 there were 116,235 crimes as compared to 108,919 for the previous year. FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover said recently that crime jumped an “appalling” eight per cent in United States cities last year. Most significant is the fact that small towns and rural areas showed sharper rises in juvenile crime than metropolitan sections.
So much for the wind and the whirlwind. Where do we go from here? What is our way out? Everyone seems to have an answer. But what is the answer?
Early one morning a man phoned me and excitedly told me about his plan to end all delinquency. “Put every kind on a horse” was the way he put it. His idea was to develop a chain of ranches for “bad boys” all over the country in carefully chosen locations.
Another fellow urged me to promote a campaign whereby boys and girls would go from door to door selling soap. This was a variation on the “idle hands breed mischief” theme. An athletic director of a large eastern university proposed solving the problem by turning every vacant lot into a baseball field.
Certainly our children need recreation. But let us face the important fact that recreation is not solving the delinquency problem. We have today more community centers, boys’ clubs, neighborhood houses, settlements, and canteens than we ever had. And yet last year delinquency rose 17 per cent in New York City, and this has been a steady rise in the last 10 years.
More and more social agencies in New York City are giving up or curtailing summer camp programs. Strange as it may seem they are having difficulty giving away “free” camping. Authorities in delinquency are finding that maladjusted or delinquent children often shy away from supervised recreation.
Another cry in answer to the problem is “Get rid of the slums, and you’ll get rid of delinquency.” In New York City alone billions of dollars have been spent on housing projects and slum clearance programs. Yet juvenile arrests continue to rise. And because there has been so much delinquency with these areas, the housing authority has had to employ extra police.
We hear answers on every side. Pay higher salaries to teachers and social workers! Build more elaborate school buildings! Expand the system of vocational education! Put psychologists and psychiatrists in every school! Erect more comfortable prisons! Build more playgrounds! Have special courts for children! Change the labor laws so that 14 and 15 year-olds can go to work! Punish the parents! These are the solutions of the “experts” who would lick our nation’s delinquency problem. We have even called in public relations specialists for gags, gadgets, and gimmicks; and they have dreamed up all sorts of stunts, slogans, and special weeks to get people “prevention conscious.” These are the things we have done, and still are doing.
A lot of money has been spent. We have done everything possible in a material way to prevent and combat delinquency, and the problem is still with us—and to a greater degree. This is not to say that we should retain slums or become indifferent to the building of new schools and playgrounds. It is to say, however, that material considerations are not enough. We cannot buy our way out.
We have tried all kinds of approaches: aggressive casework, psychiatric treatment, institutionalization, police saturation in high delinquency areas, total mobilization of community resources and crash programs. We have held thousands of conferences, conventions, committee meetings, and even cocktail parties. Investigations and surveys are going on around the clock. All this effort has been exerted, and we have not made a dent in deterring delinquency.
In the cliché clique we have heard them say “There’s no such thing as a bad boy,” or all they need is “love and affection.” Others say it is all on account of the “cold war,” or the “sick society” in which we live.
There is an answer to the child crime problem, and it is not in more cash, conferences, or clichés. It lies in a complete commitment to Christ on the part of men and women everywhere.
A juvenile delinquency prevention program does not begin in Madison Avenue’s advertising agencies. It does not begin in courts, camps, or clubs. It does not start with a PTA committee or a congressional investigation-fine and useful as these may be.
Delinquency prevention begins in the hearts and minds of fathers and mothers before their children are born. It begins the day parents dedicate their lives to Christ.
Dedication to Christ involves more than church attendance, memorizing Scripture, tithing, or strict adherence to ritual. It is more than sectarian loyalty or denominational zeal. These things are fine, and they should be encouraged. But they are not enough.
Dedication to Christ goes much deeper. It involves day to day living according to his precepts. This includes a dedication to one’s job and devotion to one’s family, a recognition of the humanity in every man regardless of race, and doing it constantly “unto the least of these.”
The best delinquency preventive is the exemplary life of parents. It means the integrity of the policeman, the public official, the businessman, the labor leader, and the school teacher. A complete commitment to Christ is not easy. But it is the only answer.
Senator Jacob K. Javits of New York pointed out recently that since 1952 the nation’s juvenile population has increased about 22 per cent while juvenile arrests have shot up 55 per cent. “At this rate, a million youngsters may be arrested by the year 1961, if not sooner,” he said.
A million delinquents a year is certainly not a pleasant prospect. What is more we have no assurance that a million is the maximum. By 1970 we might have five million boys and girls in trouble. Here is the greatest challenge ever faced by the Christian Church. The need for complete commitment to Christ has never been so manifest. The need for Christian living in our daily lives has never been so evident.
Dark and desperate as it may seem the situation is not in any sense hopeless. There is hope, and that hope is in Christ.
Russell J. Fornwalt has been Vocational Director, Big Brothers, New York City, since 1943. He holds the B.S. degree from Lafayette College and M.Ed. from Pennsylvania State College. He has published many pamphlets on juvenile delinquency and was Editor of the Juvenile Delinquency Digest.
Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.