Criminal Justice, Culture & the Family
Compassionate, Effective Solutions … For the Children
June 28, 2016
By Jonathan Small
Conservatives, as the readers of this magazine well know, emphasize the principles of individual liberty and personal responsibility over those of collective well-being and communal responsibility. Where there is a problem or a societal ill, we do not reflexively look first to government agencies for a solution.
Similarly, where there are unequal or even tragic outcomes, we do not necessarily believe an injustice has been committed. Rather, we believe some outcomes are consequences of individual choices. Both good and bad consequences are inevitable in a free society.
Unfortunately, this core set of beliefs has led some conservative thinkers to vacate the ideological playing field on issues of great importance, chief among them the welfare of our least-advantaged and most vulnerable children.
Currently, there are 96,000 children in Oklahoma with parents who are now or have been incarcerated. There are more than 10,000 children in state custody on any given day, searching for loving homes in our state’s foster care and adoption programs.
It is easy to understand why some conservatives might struggle to engage on these issues. After all, the best and most conservative solution to broken families and children born out of wedlock is for people to find loving spouses and to stay married. The best and most conservative solution to over-incarceration is for individuals not to commit crimes.
How, then, can conservatives meaningfully engage on the criminal justice and child welfare issues that affect everything from our economic well-being to our moral identity?
In this issue of Perspective, we explore that question and find an impressive variety of answers, suggestions, and solutions. In the pages that follow, conservatives wishing to engage on the issues of child welfare and criminal justice will find footholds of all sorts.
First, right-leaning thinkers should be offended by how poorly our criminal justice system serves us and how wasteful it is. Oklahomans are spending an outrageous amount of money on imprisoning drug addicts, and then releasing them onto the streets without supervision. All the while we are leaving their children in poor, one-parent households or making virtual orphans of them. It is a cycle of failure that is dangerous, expensive, and unnecessary.
Second, for the faithful, it is clear these are pro-family issues that should not be shoved aside. The faith-based community should play an outsized role in offering help to children who would otherwise be helpless.
Finally, if there was ever an issue that struck directly at the matter of personal responsibility, it is this one. The government cannot raise our children. The Department of Human Services cannot take the place of a loving family. If we want the thousands of children in our foster care system to grow up to be healthy and productive members of society, we have to raise them as such. That means that more men and women with the means and will to do so will need to come forward and serve as foster parents.
As American Enterprise Institute president Arthur Brooks reminded an OCPA audience in Tulsa last year, conservatives have the policy solutions that offer a vision of true hope for the most vulnerable among us. It’s time to put those ideas into practice.
Jonathan Small is president of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs.