Life without parole

Interior views of traditional prison

Two news stories caught my eye today that are indeed related. The first is the announcement that the federal government is moving away from privately run facilities for reasons of prisoner and guard safety and programming. That is to say that more programs are offered in federally run facilities that attempt to rehabilitate. The second was the sentencing of a former NFL player who plead guilty or no contest to drugging and raping multiple women in several states. He received 18 years in federal prison. I am not linking them here as I do not hope to discuss the details of them really, but rather to start a discussion about our justice system. I want to begin here with a pretty narrow focus so that we might actually get somewhere. I am going to propose a few questions in the hopes of generating some response.

The first question is probably the most important and the most difficult. What is the purpose of our various systems of incarceration? (federal, state, local, county, prison, jail, etc.) Is this a punishment for behavior? Is this a hope for rehabilitation? Is this a warehouse system where we put those we deem to be societal unfit? What is the over all purpose of the system?

The second question is simply this, do we have to many laws that are resulting in time within the system?

The third is what do we, as a society, hope from those who are released?

The fourth is what are we, as a church, doing for prisoners, and what should we be doing?

Finally the fifth is what has caused the massive incarceration rate that we have in the United States?

There you go, short, sweet and to the point. I hope to have some interaction via comments so that while this is short, the conversation might be large.

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7 Replies to “Life without parole”

  1. Wow! Thank you. This is exactly the sort of thing the church needs to be focused on and which she is uniquely equipped to help even the most secular society. Would like to see this get as many comments as gun control and LGBTQI articles.
    A Christian view of justice is oriented toward restraint, restitution, and restoration. The one thing we are forbidden is one thing our fallen nature most desires: retribution.
    We first want to stop the harm by the perpetrator and give pause to others who are so inclined. This freauently means restraining them. As far as possible, the victim needs restitution whether it comes directly from the perpetrator or from the community or both. We are also responsible for the moral reformation of the offender and opening a path that has a realistic hope of restoring them in the community.
    Most of the other questions are addressed in saying, “Yes, we have too many laws.” When Eric Garner died while beibg arrested by police in New York city two years ago the original offense was selling loose cigarettes on the street. One has to ask what kind of madness has led to a place where a five person special police team is sent out to forcibly arrest and incarcerate a person for an offense such as that.

    1. I would like to see this get as many comments as well…I fear it won’t. The reality is that while pretty much everyone agrees we need to do something, it is easy to ignore.

  2. “while pretty much everyone agrees we need to do something, it is easy to ignore”…
    Personally, I find it not easy to ignore. I think the lack of comments only reflect the lack of any good ideas that might work. It seems like everything has been tried, without success.

    At various places, at various times:

    Tougher laws (three strikes).

    Easier laws (Lucy-Goosy on pot laws).

    Massive amounts of money on rehabilitation, or building more jails (seems like the more money spent, the less effective it is).

    Death penalty, or not death penalty (doesn’t seem to change much).

    Prison ministries (maybe small percentage works. Although, I can’t help think about the Black Muslim effort in prisons in the 60’s-70’s, which seemed to scare the heck out of white people, and perhaps had the opposite effect).

    Movements in psychology, environment versus heredity for child upbringing, and which is responsible for bad behavior? (I am not sure anyone has established anything for sure on this – and seems to be more a reason to spend money on psychologists, with no real results).

    And finally, biblical, and actual, history:

    In 33 AD, when people didn’t have money to spend on prisons, they either killed prisoners, or made them slaves (work or die).

    Social experiments, like socialism (just off hand, I think of William Booth having communal farms in the 1800’s, for alcoholism or drug addiction, to provide work for people, and food – a total bust, didn’t work).

    So, what works? I have absolutely no ideas. Although, I can’t help but think of “Brave New World”, Aldous Huxley; children raised in a test tube, then a sterile environment provided by the state, and taught that at the first sign of stress, pop a pill, Soma, and chill out. No aggression can be generated by anyone toward anyone, thus no crime.

    Now, where else would there be no stress, no aggression, no sex, no marriage, no bad people, no crime? I don’t know…sounds a lot like the biblical definition of heaven.

    Bottom line – I have absolutely no ideas on what will work.

    1. That is a valid observation that deserves to be said out loud. Having ministered in this area most of my adult life I can tell you that ministries and programs are often abandoned and workers quit in frustration because they begin with the expectation that they have hit upon a concept that will have wildly successful results. Truth is that even the best efforts can only be judged by their lower rate of failure–not higher rate of success–by most statistical standards.
      I don’t beleve we are called to this ministry because it is highly successful but because it is highly faithful. One is better off thinking in a “save-the-starfish mode. We take our satisfaction in this life from the ones and twos. Somehow God uses these efforts in a greater kingdom way.

    2. There are some things we have not tried I think. Currently probation and the like releases criminals back into the very environments that they came out of. Given the number of people who are jailed for addiction related (drug and alcohol crimes) that is a recipe for disaster. Being an alcoholic and going to a bar doesn’t make a lot of sense after all. What if churches offered to house those on probation for these offenses outside of the communities they came from to provide a stable environment and positive references for work and the like?
      I am all for legalizing pot (and perhaps other things) simply because I don’t find it the responsibility of government to protect us from ourselves. I am all for eliminating jail sentences for non-payment. Putting someone in jail because they owe money is debtors prison no matter how you look at it.
      I think another way to reduce the prisoner rate is to end the idea of policing for profit.
      Repealing the anti drug abuse act would go a long way toward solving the problem. Since it came into being in 1985, the US prison population rose from around 300,000 to over 2 million.

      1. I think the Salvation Army does something similar in their ARC programs. Although they also get government funding for the effort (thru the applicant’s welfare, SSI, and other benefits the applicant receives from the government). Although I have heard positive and negative things about it (good – sometimes it works; bad – sometimes the applicants feel used to play the game of going to their services and relinquishing their benefits while in the program. Many times court ordered, so not always voluntary.)

        This is even more prevalent in Australia, where the SA gets government grants for the effort. Maybe good. But I don’t know the statistics on success, failure. The people I know that were directly helped and successful, also seemed to end up being either strong Salvation Army soldiers, or actually turned out becoming Salvation Army officers. Which, personally, I think, shows that the ones given the most help, are also the ones that show active interest in being in that denomination. The ones not so enthusiastic about the religion are not so favored with success. Just my observations, no data to back it up.

        1. I should have said, this is in regard to “What if churches offered to house those on probation for these offenses outside of the communities they came from”.

          I guess I am indirectly implying that a religious denomination sometimes does this for either 1) government grants; or 2) ground sort for prospective members. The good ones are the ones that stay – the bad ones are not really wanted anyway.

          Ok – bad attitude. But my observations.

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