The United States has a greater percentage of people in prison than any other country. The prison population is growing all the time. Most cities, have overcrowded jails and need to build more or find a answer that is different from locking people up. Far too often we not only put people in prison for years for all kinds of crimes, but we do so with almost no effort to rehabilitate the criminal. The result is that far too often one enters prison as a criminal and soon becomes a hardened criminal. I hear all kinds of people talk about how good people have in jail or in prison. Every time I hear such I wonder if any of them have ever visited people in jail or prison.
How much sense does it make to take a young person who has grown up in poverty, often the victim of abuse and who gets involved with people that lead them in all the wrong directions and help them get involved in drug abuse and commits a minor offense throwing them into jail or prison with hardened criminals that train to become worse criminals? If someone has committed a crime that is serious enough that they will be locked away for the rest of their life it makes sense not to try to rehabilitate them. If they are going to be released in a few years it makes great sense to put them through some kind of rehabilitation that will help them not to come back there again. If many were trained for a job that would help them find work when they are released from prison and they were helped to actually find a job with a support system that encouraged them to stay on the right road many wouldn’t continue a life of crime. Instead we tend to put them away, leave them untrained for any job and make it almost impossible for them to find work because they have a record.
There are groups of people who have had tremendous success working inside the prisons, changing lives and offering assistance to those who are released from prison. Most of those groups like prison fellowship are religiously oriented. But some aren’t and have also been very successful. It is also true that some religious groups who have worked hard inside prisons make their converts more hate filled, abusive and anti-social than they were before they became part of the group.
Even more effective than rehabilitation in prison would be taking those guilty of minor non-violent crimes and instead of sending them to jail or prison putting them through programs to rehabilitate them. I’m certainly not talking about some pop-psychology program which foolishly thinks that the answer to every program is in helping a person have better self esteem. This idea has led to schools, parents and youth organizations constantly telling kids how great they are even when they are doing poor or mediocre jobs and refusal to tell them they are wrong even when they give wrong answers and do poor work. We’ve brought up tons of young people who think they never do anything wrong and believe they should have everything they want in life.
Wrong is wrong. Sin is sin. Grace isn’t calling wrong right but in showing them that one who does wrong can be made right again. What if every person were caught for every wrong done? Thank God we can be forgiven and given a new start even when we do wrong. The government has the God given right to punish crime. But punishment should be fair, treating all races the same and those who are poor with the same fairness as those who are wealthy. It makes no sense that one can get off from a crime just because their parents have money to hire a good lawyer. Our system favors the wealthy, the connected and the educated. That is not right.
I wonder how many young people could be kept from a life of crime if we took the time and effort to mentor them. What if you helped one child become all they are capable of being? The whole world can be changed one person at a time.