Government, Policy, and Family Crisis
Big government, Little government, Decentralized government. Get the government off our backs. Citizens for Reconstructed Government. Is "big government" a problem for families? What exactly can the government do to help families and children?
We can start this discussion by enumerating many of the
things government has done in the past to make the
"American Dream" a reality for many, many people. Remember
what the American Dream actually is?
It is Government's job, through the development and enforcement of public policy to insure that every American has an opportunity to participate in the American Dream. Here's a very incomplete timeline of big government ideas:
-Thomas Jefferson in 1776 drafts an incendiary "declaration of independence" noting in it, among other highly radical concepts, the idea that people are created equal and inherently hold certain rights that cannot legally be undermined. Status Quo politics would have all Americans living under the British, Spanish, and French rule. We celebrate this day by drinking beer, eating hot dogs, and shooting off illegally obtained fire crackers.
-President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation at the beginning of the Civil War which legally ended slavery in the U.S. Status Quo politics would have allowed a continuation of one of the most inhumane of American practices.
-President Theodore Roosevelt established Anti-Trust legislation, which disallowed continued monopolies and introduced more competition. Status Quo politics would have allowed continued price fixing and unfair competition (capitalists hate real competition).
-The New Deal domestic reform program of President Franklin D. Roosevelt attempted to provide recovery and relief from the Great Depression through programs of agricultural and business regulation, inflation, price stabilization, and public works; numerous emergency organizations.
-In the 1960s, President Johnson skillfully prodded
Congress into enacting (1964) an $11 billion tax cut and a
sweeping Civil Rights Act. He launched a program
of social and economic welfare programs to create what he
termed the Great Society. It included Medicare
and Medicaid, federal aid to education,
increased antipoverty programs (including Head
Start) and the 1965 Voting Rights Act. The
younger among you may not realize that prior to this
administration, voters in many states (particularly in the
South) had to encounter Poll Taxes and Literacy Tests
before being allowed to vote in any election. These were
devices designed to keep certain voters, specifically
African-Americans, away from the voting place.Through
these efforts in the early 1960s, child poverty was
literally cut in half
-Through the Nixon administration's conservatism, almost
all of the gains in reducing child poverty were
eradicated, and by the end of his presidency in 1974, more
children were living in poverty than before he took
Continuing this tradition of Big Government interference
in the lives of ordinary citizens,
Below are some excerpts from the ongoing debate over big government and the economy:The Devolution of Welfare Debate
I. "Blocking" Devolution:
Congressional Republicans have adopted block grants as an all-purpose strategy for producing short-term federal budget savings while claiming to "devolve" power to states and localities. PPI Senior Fellow Ed Kilgore and PPI Vice President of Domestic Policy, Kathleen Sylvester, argue that block grants weaken rather than strengthen the partnership between the federal government and the states, and often fail to supply the sweeping flexibility that the name connotes. The paper offers three progressive alternatives to block grants: performance-based grants; devolution by swapping divided functions; and direct devolution from government to citizens.
Seymour Martin Lipset. June 1991.Lipset argues that affirmative action has forced a sharp confrontation between two core American values: individualism and egalitarianism. The traditional view, as set forth in the Declaration of Independence, emphasizes equality for individuals defined as equality of opportunity. The more recent approach stresses equality for groups, defined as equality of result. In addition, Lipset contrasts the meritocratic view of equality that prevails in the United States and the class- or group-based view common in Europe. The politics of affirmative action and group preference has broken the national consensus on civil rights forged during the 1960s. To rebuild a progressive consensus for public actions to ensure equal opportunity, Lipset urges policymakers to refocus affirmative action on universal education and economic development, rather than those limited by race, gender, or ethnicity.
Crime is both big business and very troublesome to most
III. From The Juvenile Crime Challenge: Making
Prevention a Priority
California's prisons, jails and youth institutions are overflowing, violent crime has risen alarmingly and citizens feel increasingly vulnerable in their homes, schools and job sites. The academic commentators who study the convergence of statistics, trends and policies see no relief in the future despite tough-on-crime rhetoric and reality. Crime will continue to be a major concern as the State's population growth persists, the economy remains stagnant and a swelling, alienated underclass rejects societal standards of behavior.
A significant, disproportionate and increasing share of California's crime problem is made up of juveniles. In addition, many of the adults in prison today began their criminal careers as youths and teenagers. Thus, any systematic attempt to reduce crime and the societal costs associated with it needs to place a high priority on addressing juveniles.
Having completed a prison-focused review of the adult criminal justice system, the Little Hoover Commission early in 1994 turned its attention to the juvenile justice system. The Commission's investigations led to several overriding conclusions that form the foundation for the Commission's approach to the juvenile justice system. Those conclusions include:
The root causes of crime are many and diverse. Any hope of addressing those causes successfully requires multi-faceted strategies, bits and pieces of which can be implemented by neighborhoods, communities and various levels of government. There is no silver bullet -- no simple, expedient answer that can be imposed from above.
Any solution to juvenile crime must be bipartisan and involve all sectors of society: individuals, families, schools, churches, community groups, governments and businesses. While the scope of effort involved should be as broad as all of society, the Commission believes its report also must serve as a wake-up call to individuals. Individual initiative at the most local level and personal acceptance of responsibility for bringing about change is the key to reform. As one popular maxim puts it, "Think globally, act locally."
The State has no particular "ownership" of the juvenile crime problem. The inclination toward crime often arises from factors at home; the impact of crime is felt in neighborhoods; the arrests, prosecutions and, in most cases, dispositions are city and county operations. Only 2 percent of juveniles arrested eventually are placed in state institutions. While the State is a bit player in the day-to-day staging of the juvenile justice system, it has the ability and responsibility to carve out a powerful role as a policy leader and facilitator for local solutions.
Prevention works better and is cheaper than treatment. The sobering reality is that improving to the optimum extent how juvenile criminals are treated once they are apprehended will only reduce recidivism by at most 10 percent, experts agree.1 While keeping that 10 percent from continually recycling through the juvenile justice system -- and ultimately, the adult system -- would free significant resources, the fact is that prevention and early intervention hold far more promise than good rehabilitation programs for actually reducing crime. Children are much harder to "fix" once they have become criminals than they are when they first show signs of deviant or anti-social behavior.
Personal accountability for actions and decisions is the cornerstone of a civilized society. Children should be taught -- both at home and in schools -- informed decisionmaking processes. And they should learn that, in theory and in practice, there are swift consequences for poor decisions and both tangible and intangible rewards for good decisions. To reinforce these lessons, all of the actors within the juvenile justice system, from the policeman on the beat to the judge in juvenile court, must strive to make the system work more effectively in providing consequences at all levels of criminal severity.
The state, local governments and communities should approach juvenile crime from the perspective of outcomebased goals, chief of which should be deterring firsttime offenses and reducing recidivism. The collection of reliable data and its systematic, validated analysis is crucial for good decisionmaking about policy and programs.
Private enterprise involvement at many levels and in multiple modes is critical to successfully addressing root causes of crime. This ranges from partnerships with schools to improve education and mentoring roles with atrisk children to providing opportunities through programs such as the Free Venture enterprises in California Youth Authority facilities and creating targeted hiring practices.
Based on these concepts, the Commission developed a report to reform and improve the juvenile justice system that 1) does not rely on a single solution; 2) focuses on the appropriate role for the State while recognizing that responsibility -- and the best chance for success -- lies at the local level; and 3) places a priority on prevention.
This perspective is echoed by RAND's leading juvenile
justice expert, Dr. Peter W. Greenwood: Somewhere
between 30 and 40 percent of all boys growing up in an
urbanized area in the United States will be arrested
before their 18th birthday....Although juveniles account
for only a small proportion of the total population,
older juveniles have the highest arrest rates of any age
group. Furthermore, studies of criminal careers have
demonstrated that one of the best predictors of
sustained and serious adult criminality is the age of
initiation and seriousness of the delinquent career.
At least part of the increasing number of arrests is due to the population growth of 10- through 17-year-olds. The number of youths in this age range in California remained stable at around 3.1 million from 1983 through 1990. In 1991, the population began to climb, rising from 3.2 million to 3.5 million by 1993, with projected increases through the year 2000. The graph on the next page shows the results when these population figures are taken into account and arrests are calculated as a rate per 100,000 youths. Source: California Department of Justice
Both the arrest statistics and the arrest rate data are in sharp contrast to the public perception that juvenile crime is increasing uncontrollably. In fact, juvenile advocates often cite the declining arrest rate and fairly flat number of arrests as evidence that there is no need for get-tough hysteria about juvenile crime. They believe their argument is bolstered by general California crime statistics that show most crime incident categories have either held steady or dropped.
But a closer examination of the components of the raw arrest figures and the arrest rates for violent crimes indicates why juvenile crime is a focus for the public. Arrests of juveniles for violent crimes -- particularly homicide and assaults -- have climbed rapidly in the past decade, as the graphs below indicate. Source: California Department of Justice
In 10 years, arrests for both types of crime more than doubled -- assaults from 5,902 to 12,005 and homicides from 286 to 645. Linking the homicide figure to national statistics indicates that one out of four juveniles arrested for homicide was in California at a time when the state had only 11 percent of the nation's juvenile population. The total juvenile arrests for all violent crimes (homicide, forcible rape, robbery, assault and kidnapping) and the arrest rate per 100,000 for violent crimes is shown in the table below:
Juvenile Arrests for Violent Crimes 1983-1992
Year - Number of Arrests - Rate per 100,000
In addition, the perception, fed by media stories and individual anecdotes, that juveniles are causing a disproportionate share of crime is borne out by statistics. At slightly more than 10 percent of the State's population, the 10- through 17-year-olds were arrested in 1992 for 14.3 percent of all violent crimes and 26.6 percent of all property crimes, including:
While the proportion of violent juveniles held steady around 40 percent from 1983 through 1989, the proportion of violent new admissions rose steeply in 1990 to 47.6 percent, in 1991 to 51.3 percent, in 1992 to 57.2 percent and in 1993 to 59 percent.8
The changing type of juvenile crime is addressed by a
system that structurally is largely the same as it was
when it was created at the turn of the century, although
its processes have gone through several overhauls. The
system is distinctly different from the system that
handles adult offenders. This is true even at the first
point of contact: The police officer on the beat has
discretion to counsel and release a youth, take him to his
parents or school, informally refer him to a community
program, issue him a citation or take him into custody and
deliver him to a probation officer. The juvenile courts
require that officers use the option that "least
restricts" the juvenile's freedom while at the same time
protecting community safety. For a complete copy of the
report, point your browser to
Today, the widespread use of alcohol and other drugs subjects our children, families, and communities to pressures unheard of 30 or 40 years ago. Frankly, many of us need help to deal with this frightening threat to our children's health and well-being. Fortunately, we also know more about what works to prevent drug use by our young people.
As parents, we can build on that progress in our own families by having strong, loving relationships with our children, by teaching standards of right and wrong, by setting and enforcing rules for behavior, by knowing the facts about alcohol and other drugs, and by really listening to our children.
When making rules: