Scripture: Acts 12:6-11; Genesis 39:19-23
This Sunday in our sermon series, Hidden Angels, we will be discussing the state of the prison system in the United States. In order to frame this discussion, we need to ask a fundamental question: is the purpose of prison to punish the person who committed the crime, or to reform their behavior so they don’t commit a crime again? I think we would like to believe that both are happening at the same time. By punishing a person for committing a crime we hope it will be an incentive for them not to commit the crime again in the future.
Although this does happen with some prisoners where prison is a motivation to change their ways, more often than not, their time in prison only reinforces the behaviors and beliefs that got them there in the first place. The reason why this happens is because the essential purpose of prison, first and foremost, is to remove people from society who we feel are too much of a threat. The concept of reforming the prisoner so that they don’t reoffend is secondary to the primary purpose of removing them from the general population.
And we can see this priority in how we allocate our funds within our prison system. We spend the vast majority of our money on housing and feeding prisoners. Very little is dedicated to actual rehabilitation. For instance, it costs the state of New York $63,000 a year to incarcerate a single inmate. The amount it costs for rehabilitative education is around $2,000 per inmate. This small investment can reduce recidivism rates (the likelihood of a convict reoffending after leaving prison) by 60%. Unfortunately, these rehabilitative education funds are almost never allocated by the state.
Therefore, if we want prison to act as an agent of reform, then we need to put resources behind it so that a prison’s primary function is to rehabilitate. The question is how do Christians bring this about? This is what we will tackle this Sunday and I hope you can be present because you will have an opportunity to take action on this directly following serves. Have a wonderful weekend and I’ll see you there!