The Biblical Call for Justice: Mass Incarceration and the Role of the Church

America locks up more of its citizens than any other nation.
A single mother is arrested and held in jail overnight for driving with a suspended license that she could not afford to renew. A prisoner with mental illness is languishing in solitary confinement. A young man who paid his debt for a drug offense and wants to start fresh can’t find a job or housing because of his criminal record. Crime demands a response, but are we missing the mark in our pursuit of justice in America?
What’s Wrong?
America locks up more of its citizens than any other nation and, according to the Pew Charitable Trusts, all states have become more punitive. Even though overall crime and arrest rates are down from the early 1990s, states are exacting sentences at a rate 165 percent harsher than they were for the same crimes previously.
Prosecutors now seek felony charges after an arrest much more frequently than they did even a decade ago. The effects of such broken justice? 2.7 million children have an incarcerated parent, including 1 in 9 African-American children. And an estimated 1 in 4 Americans has a criminal record which creates obstacles to finding housing, jobs, and other life necessities. The problem is so far-reaching that every congregation is impacted by the crisis of crime and incarceration.
A new Barna poll commission by Prison Fellowship reveals that the vast majority of Christians believe the main goal of the justice system should be restoration for all involved—the victim, the community, and the person responsible. Practicing Christians were also more likely to believe caring about prisoners was important as a result of their values. That’s encouraging.
However, when asked if it was acceptable for someone to be punished more than their crime deserved in order to make …Continue reading…