Sunday, July 02, 2017

Time for 'Jubilee' on criminal-justice debt

Ten years ago today, as part of coverage from a conference on restorative justice, Grits published a blog post suggesting that modern policymakers embrace the biblical concept of "Jubilee" - the elimination of debts, not to mention the freeing of slaves and prisoners, mandated in the Old Testament once every 50 years. In the New Testament, Christ and His apostles embraced and promoted the concept.

Part of the bible verse which first introduced the Jubilee tradition is actually inscribed on the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia:
And he shall hallow the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof: it shall be a jubilee unto you; and ye shall return every man unto his possession, and ye shall return every man unto his family (Leviticus 25.10, KJV)
Grits does not imagine any instance where a modern, 21st century government would embrace Isaiah's Jubilee dictate of "opening of the prison to them that are bound," even if it may be warranted for all but the most dangerous offenders. But the idea of debt forgiveness within the justice system is certainly a valid one, starting with criminal justice debt.

Unpaid tickets, fines, Driver Responsibility surcharges - these can linger for years and cause immense social and economic harm. For example, recently the Travis County Attorney made headlines by trying to collect old debt from thirty years ago. Is there really a strong argument that such debt shouldn't periodically be Jubilee'd away?


Unknown said...

It is actually worse than that. Under God's standard as expressed in the Law, except for murder, rape, and slavery, the maximum prison sentence was six years. In fact, the law limited both corporal punishment and imprisonment to avoid destroying the lives of those who commit crimes.

Steven Michael Seys said...

Someone in charge of Texas gets a visceral thrill out of inhumane punishment, and sometimes I think it isn't human.

Wise Texan said...

It's funny how our legislators (especially the "conservative" ones) love to quote the Bible and claim to be strong Christians but in the area of criminal justice reform, they do an about face. Cruelty doesn't begin to describe the current system. Seeing recent articles on the heat litigation I read they made $30 million just off of commissary. The prison industry is apparently too lucrative for them to consider fixing it. What's worse is these fixes would likely save money in the long run and reduce prison populations AND most importantly, deter recidivism and lower crime rates. But profit is what is important, right?

Anonymous said...

I would like to see Grits do a study on the emerging practice of dodging overdue child support payments by using driver's licenses, vehicle tags and registration from Mexico.

Anonymous said...

Everything is relative. A speeding ticket for 10 or 15 mph over the speed limit is one thing----doing a hundred and 10 in a 40 mph zone on Mesa Street in El Paso is another.