Posts tagged with: Penology

prison-rape-ad“Prison rape occupies a fairly odd space in our culture,” wrote Ezra Klein in 2008, bringing to the fore a subject that is still too often ignored. “It is, all at once, a cherished source of humor, a tacitly accepted form of punishment, and a broadly understood human rights abuse.”

We are justifiably outraged by the human rights abuses occurring in foreign lands. Why then are we not more outraged by atrocities here in our own country? Our reactions to the problem range from smirking indifference to embarrassed silence. But how can we be indifferent and silent when, as reports by the National Prison Rape Commission continue to show, rape and other forms of sexual assault are becoming endemic to our prison system?

In 2004 the corrections industry estimated that 12,000 rapes occurred per year—more than the annual number of rapes reported in Los Angeles, Chicago and New York combined. Three years later a survey by the U.S. Department of Justice found that more than 60,000 inmates claimed to have been sexually victimized by prison guards or other inmates during the previous 12 months.
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Blog author: jballor
posted by on Monday, March 11, 2013

As Joe noted last week, over at Think Christian, H. David Schuringa highlights the primacy of the church’s ministry to prisoners and their families. He points to efforts both great and small:

Over the last 20 years, prison ministry has finally gotten back on the church’s agenda. There are not only large, national ministries like Bill Glass Champions for Life, Kairos, Prison Fellowship and Crossroad Bible Institute, all dedicated to preparing inmates for reentry, but also thousands of smaller groups and churches going into prisons and jails to bring the Good News.

Chuck Colson, founder of Prison Fellowship, was a long-time friend of the Acton Institute, and his story is featured in a compelling way in our new curriculum, Our Great Exchange.

Jim Liske, the current CEO of Prison Fellowship, hosts the series, which includes a session on “Compassion,” featuring Chuck’s story from political insider to prison insider…and beyond. As Chuck says, “I did everything my way. And it crashed and burned.”

For a preview of the session on compassion, check out the video featuring Chuck, “Like I Am.”

In a fine post over at the History News Network (HT: Religion in America), Jennifer Graber, assistant professor of religious studies at The College of Wooster and author of the forthcoming book, The Furnace of Affliction: Prisons and Religion in Antebellum America, reflects on what the Michael Vick saga (to date) shows us about American attitudes towards crime, punishment, and redemption.

Graber briefly traces the development of public policy and social attitudes towards punishment for violent and heinous crimes. She writes,

In the colonial era, government authorities issued tough criminal sanctions. They branded thieves; they put forgers in the stocks; they hanged murderers and even counterfeiters. The punishments came swiftly and were intended to hurt and to shame. They might deter future criminal activity. But no one expected them to prompt a criminal’s personal reformation.

But things began to change by the time of the American Revolution. At this time, she writes, “Americans encountered a host of new ideas about law, punishment, the body, and individual rights. Some citizens used these notions to call for a dramatic transformation of American criminal punishment.”

So there is a mixed legacy in contemporary attitudes toward punishment and imprisonment, particularly from a Christian perspective which emphasizes the personal transformation that is possible through God’s grace.

In round after round, the reformers claimed that a Christian nation necessarily supported criminal punishments designed first and foremost for reformation. Officials retorted that public safety demanded a realistic approach to corrections, one that used bodily punishments and shame to put unrepentant inmates in their proper place. This endless debate gave us the prisons we have today, institutions caught between simultaneous impulses to punish and redeem.

I survey four different Christian views on these matters in a 2008 law review essay, “To Abolish or to Reform? Christian Perspectives on Punishment, Prison, and Restorative Justice” (PDF). As I show in that piece, “it is more accurate to speak of a plurality of restorative
justice movements than of a unified and univocal restorative justice movement, particularly with respect to the variety of Christian approaches.” As Graber aptly notes, there are a variety of approaches to the relationship between punishment and restoration. Some hold that the two must go together, while other views hold they are antithetical to one another.

One lesson from the Michael Vick case, I believe, is that imprisonment can have a transformative effect, even if that transformation is note the sole, or even one intended, purpose of incarceration. Imprisonment is one way that society makes it clear to someone that particular behaviors are out of bounds and deserving of significant consequences. It puts the indelible stamp of “No!” on someone’s actions.

As for Vick, he’s recently made public his Christian commitment. Reflecting on his conviction and imprisonment at last week’s Super Bowl Prayer Breakfast, “I wanted a chance to redeem myself,” he said. “Pre-incarceration it was all about me. When I got to prison, I realized I couldn’t do it anymore. The one thing I could rely on was my faith in God.”

Vick’s case is only one of the most recent of many such stories of prison redemption. It’s been said before, “Prison saved my life.”