Friday, May 11, 2007

A Conservative Christian View on Overincarceration at Texas prisons

New proposals for prison alternatives at the Texas Legislature are "great news for Christian conservatives," says a new Texas blog, The Christian Conservative, which offers this supportive argument for proposals to avoid new prison building:

The Christian community, both liberal and conservative, have strongly supported jail and prison ministries, ever since Christ approved of those who “visited me while I was in prison.” Being aware that mere punishment does not suffice to change a person’s heart, prison and jail ministry aims to change the person, to stop crime on a more fundamental level.

Along that same vein of thinking, services that help prisoners overcome drug and alcohol addiction and offer job training, as the new programs would do, likewise address the problem at a more fundamental level. It is an expression of dignity and love toward the prisoner as well as a way to combat the crimes.

In my experience, many Christian conservatives share that view when you can pin folks down on their actual values and get past reflexive "tuff" rhetoric. Applying Christian conservative sensibilities to the overincarceration crisis by no means leads automatically to more prison building. Indeed, says the writer:
it is encouraging, from this conservative Christian’s perspective, to see the Texas prison system being used to reform prisoners rather than to simply punish them, to see the system being paved as a road to redemption rather than to perdition.
It's encouraging to me to see that that's encouraging to him! The terms of debate about incarceration are changing in this state, and an important and little-discussed factor behind that shift has been more conservative Christians and prison ministry folks starting to speak up on behalf of prisoners' redemption and human rights.


Anonymous said...

From 1990 until 1993 I worked as Deputy Director for the Bell County Jail Ministry in Belton Texas. Sheriff Dan Smith was very open to the jail ministry operating in his 700 inmate jail. I personally witnessed many inmates and their family members finding a new way of life. We provided services for the inmates and their families. We had started reentry services when I left.

The sheriff noticed a marked reduction in violence after the jail ministry was in place. Assaults on other inmates and department personnel dropped. I was in the jail on a daily basis and we had a large number of volunteers in the jail on a regular basis. I did a Christian based life skills program as well as counseling services for inmates. We also worked with the department personnel as their Chaplain.

I can not think of any negative outcomes from the Bell County Jail Ministry. It was good for everyone involved. It let volunteers see inmates and their problems. I think many volunteers came away with a new view of criminal offenders. The inmates met some people who modeled a new way of living and saw there were people who cared what happened to them.

Anthony Mikulastik

Anonymous said...

Incarceration without rehabilitation is a waste of time and money. The ability to avoid incarceraton and go straight to rehabilitation is far more productive. Anything that moves the criminal justice system in the direction of rehabilitation is in the best interest of society.

Another important step will be to decriminalize activities where there is no victim. Because of the current system, many lives are destroyed by the negative consequences of prison.

It is encouraging to see the State of Texas move away from punishment as the only response to crime!

Steve-O said...

I was refreshing to see some rational talk on the prison issue for a change. Thank you for your work on this issue.

Unknown said...

It should be noted that prisons are a fertile recruiting ground for religions that promote self-justification and a weak shallow faith. People in prison tend to be emotionally dependent on the approval of peer groups. Gangs prosper on an "Us versus them" mentality. So do many religions especially those who selectively invoke scripture to promote a "chosen people mentality" or "woe to infidels" mindset.
Karl Marx once said that "religion is the opiate of the masses". He had a point. Of course Maoist "end justify the means" is not the answer! Do we really help people by superimposing a more socially acceptable gang upon them to replace criminal gangs? Well, we do help the rest of us - since people of weak and shallow faith do commit fewer blue collar style crimes like identity theft, burglary and mugging. All is not as it appears on the surface.