Violent crime has been in decline for the last 20 years, a trend unpredicted by experts. Nobody knows why for sure, but according to The Washington Post there are several prominent theories.
The tough-on-crime theory links declining crime rates to tougher policing and higher incarceration rates. However, in light of staggering recidivism rates and the negative social effects of warehousing young men, most are hesitant to confirm this link with any certainty.
An abortion link is posited based on the premise that unwanted children experience a higher risk of becoming criminals. The correlation accounts for the decline in crime during what would have been the crime-committing years, i.e., about 20 years after abortion. Of course, measuring what people who were not born would have done is difficult.
Then there is the controversial theory based on the elimination of lead in gasoline and paint, since lead has been found to stimulate criminal conduct in those exposed to the substance as children. However, this is likewise considered difficult to prove, a scientific non-starter. The Post also names other theories, such as changing neighborhood demographics and a rise in gun-toting citizens.
But the experts may have overlooked a possible link. Over the last 20 years, prison ministry has finally gotten back on the church’s agenda. There are not only large, national ministries like Bill Glass Champions for Life, Kairos, Prison Fellowship and Crossroad Bible Institute, all dedicated to preparing inmates for reentry, but also thousands of smaller groups and churches going into prisons and jails to bring the Good News.
A suggestion of a correlation can be discovered by comparing the 20-year growth of Crossroad’s imprisoned student body and the decline of crime during the same time period. Crossroad’s program could be seen as a reflection of the entire church’s stepped-up efforts to remember those in prison. The link is certainly as plausible as abortion, lead or increased incarceration rates, if not more so, considering Byron Johnson’s compelling studies indicating reduced recidivism rates among discipled prisoners.
Surely there is no one reason crime rates are dropping, but let’s give credit where credit is due. Prison ministry’s effect on recidivism rates should be good news for our communities - whether one buys into the faith-based approach or not.