Saturday, December 06, 2008

Prisons and Justice

I remember watching one episode of Cops in which a young woman had been arrested because she had a needle in her handbag. Although in some sense her arrest may have actually helped her to seek help for her drug problem, the entire situation was ridiculous. Here was a woman that was actually going to jail and spend time in incarceration because she had taken a drug at some point and forgot to leave the needle at home.

Perhaps I may be sounding more on the liberal side of things, but the "crime" just did not fit the punishment. We have made an entire prison system that we put people into in order for us to rid ourselves of societal trash. In doing so we never solve the problem but have only created an underground society and culture.

Chapter 12 of Poythress' book, Just Penalties for Many Crimes, points out some interesting principles from Old Testament Law that I think we would do well to learn from. Allow me to offer a coupe of citations from pages 167-8.
According to Mosaic Law, thieves who cannot repay the penalty for their crimes are to be sold into servitude for their theft (Exodus 22:3). The same logic of justice is operative here. The thief must be forced to pay even if such action involves selling the price of his future work.
He concludes the section with this paragraph.
Nowadays some criminals are allowed to "pay a debt to society" by doing meaningful work for the state or for some charitable cause. But such a course is still wrongheaded. The thief's debt is not to the state or to society but to the injured person. We help the thief understand better the nature of his crime as well as conform to Biblical principles of restoration and punishment when we follow the Old Testament practice more directly.
Although I am not certain we may overthrow the "debt to society" idea so firmly embedded in our laws, the idea of the prison system has certainly destroyed altogether justice that Scripture speaks of. The idea of an eye for an eye or tooth for tooth is one that reconciles man to man or at least brings justice between men.

Prisons simply hide men who have done an evil. The public never sees justice being carried out. The criminal is never forced to deal with the society or individual he offends except perhaps during the trial. Sitting in a court room and hearing a judge or jury say guilty is hardly the full extent of what needs to occur.

Here is a great example of the State of Texas sending a mom to prison for not knowing her adopted child was allergic to salt. The State was actually at fault in this whole case. The jury admitted after their life in prison verdict that she was not guilty of the crime the State had charge her with. So instead of justice, we now have an innocent mom taken away from her family to sit in a prison. What justice is there in her sitting in prison for what at most could be involuntary manslaughter due to the State's negligence? How is she paying her debt back to the child that died?

I realize there are some crimes that require the removal of a person from society. A dirty needle or accidental salt poisoning simply isn't one of them.

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