An understanding of the proper role of government should begin with the key reason why government exists: to restrain the bad guys and thereby promote the freedom and safety of everyone else.
Considering government's well-documented difficulties with reforming and rehabilitating bad guys, it may have raised a few eyebrows when Democratic state Sen. Andy Berke, who hopes to be Chattanooga's next mayor, said the city should take upon itself the task of showing criminals a path to success.
Berke offered that goal -- which involves getting together lots of people in the community and discussing the issue -- as a component of his promise to reduce Chattanooga's crime rate.
"It's incredibly important and doable," he said at a small gathering.
To be sure, there is obvious value in trying to lead criminals down a different path.
But that doesn't mean government is a particularly apt vehicle for pursuing that endeavor. Far and away the most valuable role government can serve in reducing crime is to enact laws creating just, but stiff, sentences for criminals -- particularly for violent criminals. Then those sentences should actually mean what they say.
It's simple cause and effect: Most people do not have a desire to be in prison, and hardly anybody wants to be there long term. So tough sentences for serious crimes go a long way toward discouraging that behavior.
Meanwhile, churches and a range of other excellent organizations can and do perform vital work in helping point criminals in a more productive direction.
Confusing the different but equally important roles of government and private institutions, however, is not likely to yield the reduced crime that we would all like to see.