Rehabilitating or Punishing Criminals?


We received a letter at Mosaic from a man who will be released from prison who desires to connect with our community. We are excited to help him reconnect to society and become the person God wants him to become!

Recently, I have been challenged by some articles and conversations about the state of our prison system in the U.S.. With 1 out of 100 people in jails or prisons in our country, we have a real crisis, and then the question comes: are we rehabilitating criminals or making them worse in our current system?

Here are some thoughts from an article which gives some stats on our system:

“The report said the United States incarcerates more people than any other nation, far ahead of more populous China with 1.5 million people behind bars. It said the U.S. also is the leader in inmates per capita (750 per 100,000 people), ahead of Russia (628 per 100,000) and other former Soviet bloc nations which round out the Top 10.”

“The U.S. also is among the world leaders in capital punishment. According to Amnesty International, its 53 executions in 2006 were exceeded only by China, Iran, Pakistan, Iraq and Sudan.”

“California -which faces a $16 billion budget shortfall – spent $8.8 billion on corrections last year….”

“For some groups, the incarceration numbers are especially startling,” the report said. “While one in 30 men between the ages of 20 and 34 is behind bars, for black males in that age group the figure is one in nine.”

“The report cited Kansas and Texas as states that have acted decisively to slow the growth of their inmate population. They are making greater use of community supervision for low-risk offenders and employing sanctions other than reimprisonment for offenders who commit technical violations of parole and probation rules.”

Dan Brown wrote a critique of our system where he points out the following:

“America’s disproportionate investment in corrections rather than prevention maintains what the Children’s Defense Fund aptly calls the “Cradle to Prison Pipeline.” This system is a terrible short-term and long-term investment, both fiscally and in lives.”

“In the short-term, corrections expenses eat up a massive portion of state budgets. The Times reported, “On average, states spend almost 7 percent on their budgets on corrections, trailing only healthcare, education and transportation.” States are forced not to fund other, critical programs because of the inflexible expenses of keeping the prison system running as is. For example, programs to strengthen schools or improve neighborhoods — programs that would help to steer kids away from crime — are scuttled to fund jails.”

“In the long-term, more and more people will go to jail (as many as 1 in 3 African American males at some point in their lives), destroying an untold number of families.”

Should we simply punishing criminals or should we be rehabilitating them, helping them reconnect to society?

Check out this mind-blowing example from Norway, a country in which their criminals (including those who have murdered or raped others) live in retreat-style setting on weeknights and weekends while working in the community during the weekdays:

Could this really work? It seems way to good to be true?! As my friend who sent the link to me said, “Eight minutes long and a thousand years away.”

  • Pete Wilson

    You’ve got me thinking Eric!

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