Bonzo Was Right!

  In the classic comedy film, Bedtime for Bonzo, a young actor named Ronald Reagan brings home a monkey to prove a point, which is: A stable, two-parent home, where children are taught right and wrong, can keep kids from a life of crime. At first, the chimp drives Reagan to distraction. He throws cereal in the actor's face and steals jewelry. But in the end, Bonzo proves Reagan's point: He returns a stolen necklace because his "parents" taught him that stealing is wrong. Well, it's lighthearted fun -- but with a profound message: Families do shape character, and thus directly impact crime. The empirical evidence supporting this view is overwhelming. For example, researchers at the National Institute of Mental Heath studied high-risk inner-city neighborhoods. They found that when kids grow up in safe, stable families, only about six percent of them will become delinquent. Contrast that with kids raised in unstable, one- parent families: Ninety percent of them will become delinquent. Clearly, it's not poverty or race that is the chief cause crime; It's the lack of moral training during morally formative years. The problem is aggravated when a parent goes to prison. The leading indicator of criminal behavior is having a parent locked up. One study found that eighty-four percent of boys who become serious juvenile offenders have a parent or a sibling in jail. If nothing is done, generation after generation will continue to go into the family business: Crime, Inc. Dr. Jim Dobson and I were at the Vatican last fall to address a conference on the family. As I told delegates gathered there from around the world, crime is at root a moral problem. Conversion -- bringing kids to a personal relationship with Jesus Christ -- is the best way to turn wayward juveniles around. Conversion is the key to keeping families together, as well. In areas of the world where churches most aggressively evangelize, family breakdown declines. The Church's most immediate challenge is to reach out with the gospel to kids and families at risk. Precisely, of course, what Prison Fellowship is doing. Faith-based efforts -- not government programs or bigger prisons -- can deal directly with the problem of family breakdown. President Bush recognized this during his Inaugural Address: "The proliferation of prisons," he said, "however necessary, is no substitute for hope and order in our souls." Exactly right. We must also work hard for measures that strengthen the family, and must fight the cultural forces that are corrupting it. When state legislators propose repealing easy divorce laws, get behind them. If your local video store carries trashy movies, organize pickets. If a soap company advertises on raunchy TV programs, boycott it -- and let the company know why you're washing your hands of its product. If gay groups donate Heather Has Two Mommies to your local school library, raise the roof until it's removed. Most Americans don't know about the connection between family and crime -- which is why the Church must issue a wake-up call. Our children deserve better than to be surrendered to settings that prepare them for a life of crime. The only institution than can provide this crucial moral training is the fragile, but irreplaceable, family. Just ask Bonzo. For further reference: Fagan, Patrick. "The Real Root Causes of Violent Crime: The Breakdown of Marriage, Family, and Community." BACKROUNDER #1026. The Heritage Foundation, 17 March 1995, p. 14.


Chuck Colson


  • Facebook Icon in Gold
  • Twitter Icon in Gold
  • LinkedIn Icon in Gold

Sign up for the Daily Commentary