Justice that Restores

A Biblical Vision

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There are solutions to America’s criminal justice crisis. And they’re as old as the Bible itself. Stay tuned to BreakPoint.

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Eric Metaxas

For the past three broadcasts, we’ve talked about the violations of human dignity that are all-too-common in our criminal justice system. Christians cannot be silent in the face of outrages like prison rape, the mistreatment of mentally-ill prisoners, and overcrowded prison facilities.

What makes silence even more unacceptable is that there is a biblically-based alternative to the status quo: it’s called restorative justice.

Four years ago, Mike Huckabee summed up one of restorative justice’s key principles when he said that “we’ve got to quit locking up all the people that we’re mad at and lock up the people that we’re really afraid of . . .”

The distinction between “people we’re mad at” and “people we’re really afraid of” is crucial in restorative justice. Huckabee isn’t the only person  to point out the increasingly punitive nature of American criminal justice. Longer sentences, the increased use of solitary confinement, and all-but-officially giving up on the idea of rehabilitation are just three examples of this trend.

Ironically, our justice system has grown more punitive even as violent crime rates have dropped. While there are exceptions, many American communities are safer than they have been since World War II. For instance, it is statistically safer to walk in Central Park at night today than it was in 1950.

We are spending money we don’t have to confine people “we’re mad at,” such as low-level drug and property offenders.

Restorative justice avoids this trap by treating crime as an offense first and foremost against the victim, not as an offense against the state. The wrong committed against the victim injures the peace of the community, what the Bible calls shalom. While punishment can play a role in restorative justice, it is a means to an end and not an expression of anger.

That end is healing the injuries created by the offense – to the victim, the community and, yes, even the offender.

While there are offenders we have to lock up (rapists and armed robbers come to mind), there are alternatives for dealing with many of the rest without endangering public safety. Allowing offenders to work to pay restitution to their victims (you can find examples of that in Exodus 22 and Luke 19:8) enhances their chances at rehabilitation. Especially if they can be supervised safely outside of prison and maintain ties with their families and communities.

And that matters, because Christians believe that no one is beyond hope, including those locked up for the rest of their lives.

Bearing witness to this hope and working for policies that bring light to darkness is not optional – it’s the Church’s calling. And it’s also the work of Justice Fellowship, which Chuck Colson founded in 1983 as the criminal justice reform arm of Prison Fellowship Ministries.

I invite you to learn more about the work of Justice Fellowship—come visit us at Justicefellowship.org.

And on today’s "Two-Minute Warning," my colleague John Stonestreet begins a series exploring a proper Christian posture to culture. Like Chuck, John believes the Church’s responsibility is to demonstrate the truth and power of the Kingdom in culture. When aspects of culture—like the justice system—are properly ordered, they can bring life, not death—because this is, after all, our King’s world.

And that King would be Jesus, of whom Isaiah said, “In faithfulness He will bring forth justice; He will not falter or be discouraged till He establishes justice on earth.”


Further Reading and Information


Correcting Our Posture
John Stonestreet | Colsoncenter.org | August 23, 2012




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People we're mad at???
You say: "We are spending money we don’t have to confine people “we’re mad at,” such as low-level drug and property offenders."

I say (to a man I otherwise greatly admire): Spoken like a man who is completely ignorant of the misery and destruction that "low-level" criminals wreak upon their families, children, churches, neighbors, communities. I wish I were ignorant, too, but I'm not.

(Nor am I out for petty revenge, a back-handed implication from Mr Huckabee's remark, which I resent.)

In actual fact, it takes a L-O-N-G history of forged checks, fraudulently depleting your children's and parents' bank accounts, stealing from your employer, shoplifting, DUI's, forging prescriptions, drug use and drug dealing, moving out in the middle of the night, leaving bills unpaid and rental properties destroyed, collections, domestic violence, child neglect, child abuse, prostituting, etc, before these "low-level" offenders end up in jail or prison at all, much less for any length of time. By then, the people they've destroyed -- quite often their own children -- are not "mad" any more. No, the victims are well past that point, Mr Metaxas. We're worn out, heartbroken, sickened, devastated.

And it's not like these poor criminals haven't had 1000 chances to repent. Maybe you didn't see the countless attempts to reach out, help, rehab (and no doubt they don't recount those selfless acts of Christian generosity to you) but GOD did and He remembers them every one. I can tell you about a few quiet Christians who will be applauded by angels on That Day.

Some incarcerated people are no doubt salvageable, and I thank God for Christian ministers who seek out those who will repent. But it diminishes your credibility when you fail to acknowledge that many are UTTERLY DEFIANT, REBELLIOUS, WICKED, EVIL, REPROBATE. There is no restoration for the unrepentant; prison, unpleasant though it may be, is EXACTLY where they belong, for as long as possible, for the sake of those who long for just a moment of peace before we die.
Vile rhetoric

Note by BreakPoint staff: We have posted a response from Justice Fellowship to the comment below:


Thank you for your commentary on this Breakpoint message.  This is a great opportunity to share with you and our audience about the work of Justice Fellowship in the areas you discuss.

Justice Fellowship has been on the forefront of the Second Chance Act since the bill’s inception. Our organization played a leading role in convening support from an array of Christian and conservative leaders and organizations, which many credit as a key to the original bill passing Congress in 2008.  Our work included partnering with the Federal Bureau of Prisons staff on this effort, as we continue to do on a many of other issues.  We know any act of the legislature or policy of the government can’t succeed without the hard work of the good people we meet in DOCs and at the BOP in each and every facility.  Justice Fellowship chronicles our work in Prisoner Reentry/Second Chance Act on our webpage.

As you correctly point out, the Second Chance Act is far from perfect and at the same time an important step forward.  It was a privilege to personally testify before the U.S. Senate for the reauthorization of Second Chance Act funds last year.  The imperfections of this work are easy to point to, but you may recall there was a standoff over finances between the House and President at the same time the reauthorization took place.  I am grateful that the wisdom of our leaders in Washington, DC saw past partisan positions and included this funding request for the improvements it does contain—even while so many other reforms in other areas of government were canceled or not renewed.

I pray that you remain an enthusiastic supporter of Angel Tree.  This program is very difficult to manage and I know the work improves each year.  The most important point of Angel Tree is the message of love the child receives from a parent who is otherwise unable to provide for them.  Whatever distracts us from the call to share, promote, and spread the love of God is a drape we allow to be placed over the Light we should let shine through, touching the innocent children who in too many cases would never hear the Word in any other way.

Thanks again for voicing your concerns here and giving Justice Fellowship a chance to give a fuller description of our work in these important areas with the readers.

Craig DeRoche
Vice President, Justice Fellowship

Dr. Matexas,
Your rhetoric is starting to sound less like the intelegent scholar you are known to be and more and more like a one of the liberal eliet. Though you call for Biblical solutions. You persist in attacking the US Prison System. While there is much that needs reform in the system. You are making us your enemy. You are either ignoring or ignorat of the efforts of Charles Samuels the Director of the BOP, and seem ignorat of the 2nd Chance act, and the fact that every BOP employee at an institution must teach or facilitate reentry preparation programs. This means the GS-5 rooky and SES Warden. Every employee must be specifically and stratigically working to help inmates successfully reenter society. Perhaps Justice Fellowship could have added its voice in 2011 in the lobby for changing Federal inmate "good conduct" credit from 47 day per year to 89. The legislation failed in commitee and PF and JF had nothing to say about it. Also, failing in commitee were proposals to increase Halfway House credit from 6mo. to 12mo. and that low security designations without public safety factors all be placed in home confinement. Again where was JF? Had all three of passed congress over crowding in Federal Prisons would have been virtually eleminated. The cost savings could have been used for the BOP to take a greater role in the confinement of ICE detainies. However, you seem determined to vilafy the US prisons. You demine the work that thousands of Christians do in Prisons everyday, yet you wouldn't open your mouth a year ago to support legislation that would have reduced or eleminated many of the problems you vilify us for. Your rhetoric has caused me to reconsider if I will permit my institution to participate in Angel Tree in the Future. You have identified the BOP as your enemy. You only delivered for two thirds of our inmates children last year. We have already sent you forms for this year. I think next year I'll find christians who are actually willing to work with us insted of vilify us.


You've Got It Backwards
"Ironically, our justice system has grown more punitive even as violent crime rates have dropped."
This is a perfect example of the Butterfield Fallacy, named after Fox Butterfield of the New York Times. It makes a great deal more sense that falling violent crime rates are in fact proof of the effectiveness of tougher sentencing. When violent criminals are locked up, they commit less violent crime. There's nothing ironic about that.
Restorative Justice
Since David Mark Chapman is currently in the news, I was thinking about his case (since he was just denied parole). Initially I was thinking that he should never be released since his crime was a) completely intentional and b) had such an impact on a cultural icon, not to mention the Lennon family. But if Mr. Chapman was truly penitent and appealed to the Lennon family for forgiveness...and they eventually forgave him... would that be justice if he was then freed?
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