Our Prisons Are A Crime

The Bible can unlock fresh concepts of justice that will save both money and lives.

Lucasville, Ohio, is the latest tragedy to focus America’s attention on the criminal justice system. Before Lucasville, there was Santa Fe in 1980 and Attica in 1971. The scene is horrifyingly familiar—bodies being hauled out of prison, guards held hostage, troops ringing the barbed-wire perimeter. Why Lucasville? Why Attica? Why any of this?

For starters, our prisons are dangerously overcrowded. Ohio’s prison system, for instance, operates at 180 percent of capacity. But the problem goes deeper. Our system is fundamentally flawed. We either slap criminals on the wrist or toss them into overcrowded concrete nightmares filled with desperate men with nothing to do and nothing to lose. Five out of eight people released from prison will be rearrested within three years. Our system neither protects the public nor rehabilitates prisoners.

Not only is our system a failure, it is an expensive failure. It costs, on average, over $20,000 to incarcerate someone for a year. It costs at least $50,000 to construct one prison bed. Excluding Medicaid, corrections is the fastest-growing portion of state budgets.

And the human costs of this failed system are immeasurable. Few victims of crime recoup their losses, or are allowed to participate in the justice process. Few experience the sense that justice was served.

Evangelicals, who have ready responses to abortion, homosexual behavior, and racism, are strangely quiet about criminal justice. Their silence is strange because they have available a biblical response to crime. It is called restorative justice.

In restorative justice, justice means punishing offenders in a way that restores victims’ ...

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