Restorative Justice and Christianity

Four thousand non-violent federal prisoners were sent to home confinement due to COVID emergency. The simple math is emergency ends – they go back. The legal analysis says the same. Social justice advocates see this as an opportunity to broadly commit to action reducing arbitrary or unjust prison sentences.

The Biden Administration has no clear path to do that legally or even case by case reviewing broad use (or abuse of clemency): None of the above hits the nail on the head…early release should be defined as achieving some measure of restoration by the offender and a responsibility by the criminal justice system to provide incarceration programming that promotes reconciliation with the victims and the community while also addressing any debilitating issues the inmate arrived it with that might impede release.

There is some very dedicated prison staff and programs, great volunteer organizations, tons of scattered partnerships that vary by county or state. On the flip side there are courageous prisoners that have made the most of their tie in prison despite the odds. They deserve our praise. However it is piece meal and a relative “Hail Mary” pass that a convict going in will come out better prepared to not reoffend.

Restorative justice implies time spent in jail is not solely measured by the crime committed, it is measured by true rehabilitation and genuine character change. Hanging the individual alone is only part of the journey. On re-entry having supports and a purpose that promote human dignity and life is vital.

In my view, the primal cause of crime is directly related to how disconnected the person is from the “social contract” of our society. Individuals that are abused or neglected by families, the educational system, religion, or other systems will not value our social contract laws. People without a strong sense of a lived morality or spirituality where they are treated humanely will have little value in our rules other than passing time. Sending them back out to conditions that were the same or worse than when they went in is terrible policy and extremely costly. Exclude the minority antisocial or “privileged” criminals who had no apparent need to be criminals for a moment. Most prisoners in our jail system have been victims themselves of trauma, abuse, or other deprivations.

In one sense, when Christ came, he severed church and state cleanly. Let Rome do what Rome must do to run the world – but know eternal justice awaits. If we abuse our power as wielders of the justice system we will be judged no differently than those behind bars.

I have a sneaky suspicion that some behind bars right now will attain greater proximity to living a holy life before their death warrant card is called than many of us who have been spared incarceration. We all have a death warrant on our heads. We just don’t know what malady or tragedy will take us out.

I pray here for the social justice activist, prisoners, victims of crime, and the jailers themselves (and their overseers) for hope, vision, and courage to move our criminal justice system to a better place. There are better options proven in other developed countries. My prayers are not enough.

Christianity espouses theologically that we have a true restorative justice system. How we achieve that puts more accountability on us than the convict. As a society we are not willing to acknowledge that responsibility.

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