Here is one thing the Bible says about this: Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy. (Prov 31:9). Once I started seeking the Bible's wisdom about justice issues I admit I was shocked at how many verses in both the Old Testament and New Testament speak to justice, advocating for the poor and needy, treating those in jails or prisons with compassion, and a passionate commitment to the making sure that "justice" is not a club to suppress the poor.
One of the clearest ideas that is so strong in scripture is this: we cannot wait for to "the world" to get on the bandwagon to improve the lot of the poor and needy or administer justice that is just -- even most of the time. Current commercial advertising speaks to a kinder, gentler world to tout their goods and services, but working to defend the rights of the poor and needy is certainly not accomplished by driving a trendy car or drinking the right brew or buying the right insurance.
The longer I work in jail and prison ministry, and the more I learn as I study contemporary legal system conditions and potential reforms, the more overwhelming it all seems. I have not found one social scientist so far that can speak to these questions:
- Why does the USA incarcerate 30 times more people than Canada, although our crime rates are similar?
- Although one in 27 children in the USA have at least one incarcerated parent and the financial, education and health ramifications of that do not end that day mom or dad is released; how does this play out in classroom challenges?
- Why, when 70% of children aging out of foster care are incarcerated within 3 years and they have a similar rate of unwed pregnancies, do we so often blame these youngest of victims for their "bad behaviors" rather than assure the mental health, physical health and education services needed to give them better skills to escape the foster care to incarceration and human trafficking pipeline?
- What do we expect from those who serve in law enforcement and in detention facilities? Story after story and courts upon courts are crying out for more humane working conditions. Suicides have been increasing for more than a decade for both law enforcement and detention professionals. Are we insuring the safest possible employment practices for them as they protect us?
- With inhumane working conditions rampant in jails and prisons, how can we be surprised that increasing numbers of lawsuits and investigations are finding extraordinarily inhuman conditions contributing to poor outcomes for the 95% of incarcerated persons that we are "conditioning" to return to their communities and families?
- Why are we still struggling to step-up for the 90% of trafficking victims reporting that their first contact with law enforcement was as offenders, not victims and, having been arrested, were too often released back to the person selling them rather than referring them to shelters or legal services for victims!
Does any of this sounds political? Sure, there are plenty of political issues like bad laws that we have supported in our fear and naivete, and there are plenty of political types more interested in making personal hay or avoiding irritating the uninitiated than in taking a principled and informed stand. But all that begs the question. How can churches and individual Christians turn their backs on this growing public health crisis? How will you and I answer when God asks, How did you treatment me when I was in need, sick and in prison? (Matthew 25:43-45)
Please join the conversation this 29 February 2020 at DO Justice Like Jesus. For more information use the Contact button or look for Do Justice Like Jesus on Facebook Events. There are easy things that will help. There are opportunities to make a difference in individual lives, support chaplains working in such difficult situations, help your churches find ways to make a difference in ways big and small. There are things you can do as i individuals. It is a BIG job, but God is calling all sorts of folks to join His Army in protecting families, reclaiming lives, comforting those striving to be a part of ethical and effective professional work. Let's be a part of a wave of volunteers.
PLEASE PRAY FOR US IN THE DAYS LEADING UP TO THIS EVENT, THAT THE LIVES OF THOSE WHO ATTEND MIGHT BEAR FRUIT AND FOR HEALING FOR ALL THOSE ALONG THE LEGAL SYSTEM SPECTRUM.