Forgiven
Church of England

The power of God's love to transform hardened criminals

 

Over the course of the last week, the Church of England has been running a fascinating series of podcasts talking to offenders currently in prison about finding God and the difference their faith is making as they serve out their sentences.

These interviews have been running as part of Prisons Week, an ecumenical initiative which since 1975 has united Christians from all denominations to pray for and raise awareness of the needs of prisoners and their families, victims of offenders, prison staff and all those involved in the justice system. 

We should never lose sight of the fact that crime produces victims – with all the pain and resulting trauma they often endure – and that they deserve a level of support that is sadly often lacking. Crime deserves appropriate punishment, but without restorative justice and rehabilitation the system fails to fully serve its purpose. Many of those who have been convicted are victims too: they have also been let down by the system and have experienced high levels of brokenness in their upbringings. Here are just a few of the statistics:

  • Fewer than 1% of all children in England are in care, but looked after children make up 30% of boys and 44% of girls in custody.
  • 46% of women in prison have been identified as having suffered a history of domestic abuse.
  • 53% of women and 27% of men in prison reported having experienced emotional, physical or sexual abuse as a child.
  • An estimate of 36% of prisoners interviewed in a Ministry of Justice study were considered to have a disability when survey answers about disability and health, including mental health, were screened.
  • 26% of women and 16% of men said they had received treatment for a mental health problem in the year before custody
  • 47% of prisoners say they have no qualifications. This compares to 15% of the working age general population in the UK.
  • 41% of men, 30% of women and 52% of young offenders were permanently excluded from school.
  • 15% of newly sentenced prisoners reported being homeless before custody. 9% were sleeping rough.

As is so often the case, it is Christian charities and organisations which are doing a great deal of difficult and practical work to heal wounds and bring restoration; giving prisoners a better chance of reintegrating into society and reducing their chances of re-offending. Prison Fellowship sends volunteers into 40 prisons across the country to run the Sycamore Tree programme, teaching the principles of restorative justice and allowing victims to present their experiences to prisoners. Caring for Ex-Offenders, which is based at Holy Trinity Brompton in London, coordinates a link between those coming out of prison and their local church communities in order to better facilitate their resettlement into society.

These initiatives and others are statistically proven to mitigate instances of recidivism. If it were not for the determination of local churches, many ex-prisoners would fall back into patterns of criminal behaviour.

My church has a history of prisons work. This is partly due to being situated near Hollesley Bay Prison, from which Andy Coulson was released on Friday. Our  teams regularly go into the prison to lead services and meet with prisoners. We have hosted a prison work conference, and have a house run in partnership with Hope Into Action that accommodates ex-offenders, providing them with mentoring and other life skills. We have visiting speakers who have become Christians whilst in prison, and we also have a team run by an ex-prisoner, John – also known as Finny – who visit prisons around the country putting on gigs and allowing him to share his story of God’s transformative power in his life.

Programmes have an important role in turning round the lives of offenders, but it is often when you hear testimonies which tell of the impact of coming into a relationship with Jesus that it becomes clear that nothing comes near to bringing true and lasting redemption compared to knowing the love of God. These are just a taste of the stories of John and Darrell, who came to our church in May, and Shane, who is speaking next week:

John Finlinson‘s own father and grandfather were street boxers. When he was a small boy his dad took him round the back of the house and demanded that he hit him “because he wanted me to grow up a fighter”. Growing up, he found an outlet in smashing up
cars and later got heavily into drugs.

John was first sent to prison at the age of 12. At 19 he was put on trial for violently entering a house with intent to steal and threatening to kill. Previously he might have lied in court but this time, in desperation, he called out to God, became a Christian and, as a result, came clean during his trial about his crimes. He was sentenced to six years.

His stint at HMP Dartmoor turned out to be the most transforming period
of his life: ‘‘I used to hate authority – even the church to some degree. But you can be
transformed by the renewing of your mind.” That renewal came through the Bible: “It was like metal to a magnet.” In the past he had taken part in drink and drug-fuelled sessions with friends, trying to unravel some of the key questions about life. “But here in the Bible were the answers about how it all began.” Thankfully he wasn’t left alone in his searching, and the prison chaplain at Dartmoor not only offered spiritual but practical help as well, giving John a guitar and later the landscaping tools that enabled him to start his own business. “He became a father to me,” says John.

He had learned to play the guitar during one of his earlier prison sentences when he was about 12. He started writing songs about coming to faith, redemption and his spiritual experiences. Now, during his visits to prisons with his band, along with sharing his testimony he gives away copies of his albums and hands out ‘Freedom Packs’ which contain practical resources for life outside prison, including information about being linked up with local churches.

Darrell Tunningley began his criminal career at the age of 11 by stealing badges from expensive cars. By the age of 16 he was selling heroin and cocaine and funding a £300-a-day heroin habit and had gained a formidable reputation for his violent behaviour. At 17 he was jailed for five-and-a-half years for his part in an armed robbery. He describes himself at this point in his life as being so evil he was like the antichrist; dead on the inside and full of hate and anger and guilt.

In prison he continued his drug-dealing and violence, repeatedly being moved between security categories following unprovoked assaults on other inmates. One day at HMP Wolds in East Yorkshire something happened that would change the course of Darrell’s life forever: another inmate invited him to attend an Alpha Course. He decided to go along purely to get out of his cell for an afternoon, and for the free biscuits.

When he arrived for the session he found two retired nuns leading it. He gave them a tirade of verbal abuse, but all they did was to listen and reply with love and compassion. Their response completely stopped Darrell in his tracks and broke something inside him. He went back to his cell and, just before he went to sleep, prayed to God vowing to devote his life to Him if He would take away his demons.

The next morning Darrell woke up, but when he tried to have his usual cigarette he felt violently sick. The feeling went away only when he threw his cigarettes and lighter out of the window. Exactly the same thing happened with his cannabis. When he looked in the mirror he didn’t recognise the face staring back at him; it was no longer filled with hate. When he left his cell the other inmates immediately saw that something had changed. His anger and violent temperament had vanished. He knew that God had done something remarkable in him, and so he followed through with his promise.

Darrell is now the senior pastor at Hope Corner Church in Runcorn, but his background is not that of your usual church minister. As well as leading a church, Darrell also visits prisons and travels around the world explaining how God has utterly transformed him.

For many years, Shane Taylor was considered to be one of the most dangerous prisoners in Britain’s jails. Originally jailed at 19 for attempted murder, he had his sentence extended by four years when he attacked a prison officer with a broken glass in an incident that provoked a riot. After that, he was sent to some of Britain’s most secure ‘Category A’ institutions, where he was often held in solitary confinement because of his violence toward prison officers.

When Shane was 26 he met a fellow prisoner called Robert Bull. He was in prison for murder, but since being jailed had become a Christian. He was saying a great many things that Shane describes as “mad”. “But the one thing that stuck in my mind was when he said this: ‘I’ve been in prison for fifteen years and am probably never getting out – but I’m free.’ I used to think, ‘What’s he on about? How can he be free if he’s never getting out …?’ He was on the same wing as me and he kept coming to me and giving me little booklets like Why Jesus? by Nicky Gumbel. I used to chuck them on the side but every now and then when I was bored, I’d pick up the booklet and read through it. I was put in segregation again for causing riots and as I sat there in my cell I got a big vision of that Christian prisoner, Robert Bull, and an urge telling me to write him a letter. Eventually I wrote this letter to him (he was in the normal wing), saying, ‘I’ve got a strong urge telling me to write you a letter and a vision of you in my head, so I’m writing to you …’ He wrote back, ‘The Lord’s trying to open your eyes, to get to your heart. Just let go.’ I thought, ‘He’s crazy’ but I continued writing to him. I even started to read the Gideon’s Bible in my cell a little.”

Shane ended up attending an Alpha Course. After the session on the Holy Spirit, the chaplain prayed for him. “Eddie put his hand on my head and prayed for me. Then he took his hand off and said, ‘Now you pray.’ I said, ‘What about?’ And he said, ‘From your heart – let it out and pray.’ I said, ‘Jesus Christ, I know you died on a cross for me. Please, I don’t like who I am, please forgive me, please.’ Then I sat back and we started talking. As I talked I started to feel a weird feeling in my belly. Then I started to feel this bubbly feeling slowly coming up my body  – through my legs, my chest. When it got to about halfway I started to feel tears coming into my eyes. I tried to hold it back. I stopped talking, thinking that was going to stop it, because I didn’t want to cry. Here I was, a hard man in prison – I didn’t want to cry. But it rose up and up and up until suddenly I began crying my eyes out. I hadn’t cried in years. I cried for about five minutes and I could feel a weight being lifted off me because I felt light. Eddie said in a nice voice, ‘That’s the Holy Spirit. It’s Jesus.’

“I felt like I was in this room where although there was natural light, somebody switched on another light and everything suddenly became clearer than before. It felt as if I’d had an invisible layer covering my eyes and it was rubbed away, making everything even clearer. In that split second I knew it was real. I knew God existed, I knew Jesus had touched me and that I was going to live for him forever. My behaviour changed so much that I went from being in the segregation to getting a trusted job in the chaplaincy within a few weeks.

“Jesus has changed my life. Before I was a man of pure hate and anger. Jesus has showed me how to love and how to forgive. Almost all the people I’ve upset, all the people I stabbed, all the people I hurt have forgiven me and now we talk. Now I’m helping with Alpha courses in prisons. It’s a miracle that I’m allowed to go visiting prisons when I’ve just been released from a maximum-security prison. Now I’m able to tell other prisoners about Jesus – it’s amazing.” (An interview with Shane recently appeared in May’s GQ magazine).

The transformative power that comes from repentance and giving ourselves to God is often most starkly demonstrated in the lives of those who have fallen the furthest and have the most to gain. But this is the reality of the Christian faith for each one of us. God changes lives for the better, and miracles are His currency. Most Christians’ lives are a lot more tame than John’s or Darrell’s or Shane’s, but their experiences are far from being unique. Christianity is not a crutch or an intellectual argument to be won – it goes far, far deeper. We would sometimes do well to remember that.

  • len

    Good article Gillan and all power to those who take the Gospel of Jesus Christ into H M`s prisons.
    It is possible perhaps for those who have fallen furthest to realise the incredibile love and compassion that Jesus Christ has for the lost and the fallen.
    Jesus Christ totally identified Himself with those rejected and despised by Society as He Himself was.Jesus walked in their shoes and it is this fact that makes it possible for all to come to Him and He will turn none away.

  • Shadrach Fire

    Many churches are involved in prison ministry. Is it because Christians feel that they are more needy of salvation or just a change of lifestyle. There are remarkable stories of inmates giving their lives to Christ. Is it that they are at rock bottom and therefore there is only one way to and that is up. Our own church Gospel Choir visit nearby Chelmsford Prison with tremendous interest shown by the inmates. They do of course enjoy a break from the daily routine. The Choir recently went to the largest prison in Belgium where again they were well received.

    Is prison ministry more satisfying than regular evangelism. Perhaps if more effort went into evangelism of the public, less individuals might end up inside. So are we tackling the problem from the wrong end?

  • carl jacobs

    Crime deserves appropriate punishment, but without restorative justice and rehabilitation the system fails to fully serve its purpose.

    This is just wrong. The primary purpose of the prison system is vicarious retribution. You do not put an offender into prison with the primary goal of rehabilitating him for return to society. You put him into prison for the purpose of punishment. Some crimes require permanent punishment. In that case, the system fully serves its purpose without applying effort towards rehabilitation at all. But even crimes that do not demand permanent punishment should be adjudicated without thought to rehabilitation. There should never be a case of a judge saying “I think you are salvageable, and so I will lighten the punishment to give you a chance to make something of your life.”

    I wonder sometimes if the collective desire to rehabilitate offenders doesn’t lead to a fatal diminution of the primary purpose of the prison system. We cite a sad collection of statistics, and call offenders victims as well. (Well, not when it comes to child abusers, at least. In the case we don’t care.) And then we turn our minds to how we might repair their “brokenness” with purpose of getting them back out as soon as possible. In so doing we shift the moral guilt from the person to his circumstances and morally trivialize the trauma sustained by the victim. “It wasn’t his fault what he did to you. He was ‘broken’ after all.” The best support a victim can receive is to know and see that his victimizer has been sufficiently punished.

    in general, punishment for crime is too lenient in the West, and the prison system is too comfortable. It is a travesty that people fear prison not because of the punishment they will receive but because they fear predation by other prisoners. This is exactly backwards. The prisoner should fear the punishment of the state. That punishment should not consist entirely of the deprivation of liberty even as people bend every effort to make that deprivation as comfortable as possible. Punishment should be confinement in order to deprive the offender of comfort and diversion and pleasure. The purpose of prison is to impose suffering. We seem to have forgotten that basic fact. And suffering is the best rehabilitator of all.

    “Not very Christian of me?” But that is exactly the divine mandate of the officer of the Law. That is why he is empowered to carry the sword and to use it. He isn’t there to fix ‘brokenness.’ He is there to stand in the stead of the victim – to enforce the moral worth of the victim and the moral culpability of the offender. And he is not to relent until every last cent of that debt is paid.

    • Carl, black and white as ever. The prison system can pursue all three objectives of punishment, restorative justice and rehabilitation. The State has a wider responsibility than simply inflicting vicarious suffering.

      • carl jacobs

        Jack

        The point. You never trade off rehabilitation against punishment. The moral significance of both victim and offender are at stake in the application of punishment. To list off a bunch of statistics about offenders in an effort to establish their ‘victimhood’ is to externalize the evil that they committed. “It’s wasn’t me. It wasn’t my fault. I was abused. I don’t have qualifications. I have a drug dependency I have emotional problems.” To which the only appropriate answer is “So what?” You know how you should rehabilitate a rapist, Jack? You sentence him to hard labor until he is 65. Recidivism for violent crime wouldn’t be a problem given a more just conception of punishment .

        Rehabilitation is an act of mercy and grace. It is not an entitlement of the penal system. (It’s also something the state isn’t particularly good at. Which is why this post is about ministry to offenders instead of Gov’t programs.) The moral worth that requires an offender’s punishment is the same moral worth that impels the effort on behalf of his soul. But you have to put that effort in the right context. You are trying to help the man. You are not trying to return him to life on the outside as quickly as possible. That later goal is one of the principle faults of our justice system.

        • Carl

          What you’re talking about is vengeance. Is this really all the criminal justice system is all about?

          Just putting people in prison for extensive periods and more people to death to exact revenge isn’t working in America, is it? The old divisions of: “three strikes and you’re out” and “criminals are simply trapped by their background” are too simplistic. We need to recognise that the dignity of the human person applies to both victim and offender and tailor responses according to each situation.

          “Rehabilitation is an act of mercy and grace. It is not an entitlement of the penal system.”

          Maybe not but the Christian should always be mindful people are made in the image of God and can reform.

          “The moral worth that requires an offender’s punishment is the same moral worth that impels the effort on behalf of his soul.”

          You’ll have to explain that one as it sounds remarkably like “an eye for an eye”. And the difference is that the State cannot bring about moral transformation. All it can do is effectively deprive a man of his liberty or his life. Christians are called to do a bit more.

          “But you have to put that effort in the right context. You are trying to help the man. You are not trying to return him to life on the outside as quickly as possible.”

          You have separated punishment from rehabilitation again. A reasonable sentence both punishes and offers the possibility of reform.

          Here’s what he New Zealand Catholic Bishops said back in 1995:

          “We challenge this philosophy of retribution on the basis that it is negative and usually counterproductive. We believe it to be contrary to the example of Jesus in the scriptures and to the teachings of the Church. It attacks the very hope and possibility of conversion that the resurrection of Jesus seeks to proclaim.”

          • carl jacobs

            Jack

            What you’re talking about is vengeance.

            You would have to explain how you differentiate retribution from vengeance. In terms of lawful authority punishing wrong behavior, I am not sure there is a meaningful difference. I suspect however that your differentiation amounts to nothing more than a subjective judgment about the harshness of the sentence. That is a prudential judgment. A sentence you consider too harsh no more indicates vengeance than a sentence I consider too lenient indicates appeasement.

            We need to recognise that the dignity of the human person applies to both victim and offender…

            Which you do by addressing the actual moral gravity of the offense. It is the moral dignity of the man that demands his punishment. Do you punish a dog that kills? No, you put it down. There is no moral nature in the dog to punish.

            … and tailor responses according to each situation.

            No, no, a thousand times no. You do not scale a man’s punishment according to some subjective evaluation about whether he can be rehabilitated. This is the kind of thinking that produced draconian over-reactions like the three strikes law. You punish a man according to what he has done, and not according to what he might do.

            the Christian should always be mindful people are made in the image of God and can reform.

            Yes. The Christian should. The state is not the Christian. It has different authority and different responsibilities. And the fact that a man can reform his character has nothing to do with the sentence for his crime. Reform does not necessarily imply a right to mitigated punishment. You can reform the man even though he must still endure the consequences of his crime.

            it sounds remarkably like “an eye for an eye”.

            Which is what the state is responsible to do. Unless you grasp this division of responsibility and authority, you won’t understand what I am saying.

            A reasonable sentence both punishes and offers the possibility of reform.

            And here you reveal the actual difficulty. I am much more willing to impose punishments that permanently ruin a person’s temporal life. The duration of the punishment should reflect the duration of the impact of the crime on the victim. That is reasonable to me. Reform of the criminal can only occur within that context. The punishment must be primary.

          • And the common good, the State’s primary responsibility, just how is this promoted within your theory of retribution “alone”? It’s not working as a meaningful deterrent to further crime in your country. It is actually counter productive. It hardens criminals. It sets communities against lawful authority.

            Explain where the dignity and moral worth is in simply exacting revenge on people in inhospitable, degrading circumstances? By placing punishment over rehabilitation and retribution over restoration you are failing to recognise prisoners as human beings. People aren’t morally improved by the imposition vicarious revenge. They are just punished. And it doesn’t work.

            Offenders are children of God. Their lives and dignity should be protected and respected. We should have a concern for people; not just seek vengeance. This means punishment must aim to protect society and promote the common good – that’s its purpose – and aim to rehabilitate those who commit crime. We cannot sentence people to abandonment and despair. We must seek contrition, reparation, and then a return and reintegration of offenders into the community.

          • carl jacobs

            Jack

            We must seek contrition, reparation, and then a return and reintegration of offenders into the community

            Twenty years ago, a woman named Susan Smith was convicted of murdering her two children aged three and one. She was in a failing marriage. She had a new boyfriend who wasn’t much interested in those two kids. So to keep her new boyfriend, she strapped her two kids into their car seats, drove to a lake, and pushed the car into the water. She will be eligible for parole at the age of 53. There is no amount of contrition or repentance that would justify her return and re-integration into the community. No reparation is possible. Thirty year’s confinement is not a just sentence for her crime. So don’t tell me that…

            We cannot sentence people to abandonment and despair.

            Yes, we can. And sometimes we should. A just sentence in her case would have been to take her from the court room to the gallows and hang her by the neck until she was dead. In the absence of that punishment, there is no alternative but despair. It’s the only measure if justice that remains. But if you want to know why Americans don’t trust the criminal justice system, you don’t have to look much farther than Susan Smith. All you have to do is realize those kids were screaming “Mama! Mama!” as their heads went under the water.

            And, yes Jack. It does work. The problem is not efficacy, but expense Long term incarceration for violent crime is the most effective measure you can take against a violent offender. But it costs money. You aren’t actually concerned about efficacy however. You have revealed your true distinction between vengeance and retribution. The difference is found in the imposition of despair. You reject the concept of punishment without hope. And thus you diminish both gravity of the offense and the impact of the crime on the victim.

          • Susan Smith is not representative of the average prisoner being punished in the United States, is she? The murder of innocent children always causes great distress. And even in her case, given she wasn’t executed, there may be room for repentance.

            Jack has met truly evil people and they are not morally improved by punishment; nor do they suffer despair or remorse. The issue is there are people who can experience remorse and turn their lives around.

            “The problem is not efficacy, but expense. Long term incarceration for violent crime is the most effective measure you can take against a violent offender.”

            So the imposition of vicarious punishment and despair is only restricted to violent offenders? Where is the evidence it works in discouraging crime? Sure, locking an individual away means they wont offend for the duration of the sentence. Does it stop others?

            “You aren’t actually concerned about efficacy however.”

            If it was demonstrably effective in promoting the common good by reducing crime through deterrence and/or morally reforming offenders, Jack would reconsider. It cannot be shown to do either.

            “You reject the concept of punishment without hope.”

            Yes, Jack does. As the founding principle on which to base your whole criminal justice system it is primitive.

            “And thus you diminish both gravity of the offense and the impact of the crime on the victim.”

            How does that follow? You think a nation or a person grows morally through knowing the state has imposed inhuman treatment and despair on another person? If so, why not let the victim kick the living hell of the offender?

          • carl jacobs

            Susan Smith doesn’t need to be representative of all criminals, Jack. She only needs to establish that you are wrong when you say…

            We cannot sentence people to abandonment and despair.

            Yes, we can. Yes, we should. There should be no temporal hope for Susan Smith. That is the minimum just punishment for her crime. That does not mean that all violent offenders fall into that category. But some manifestly do – as you have now conceded.

            there may be room for repentance.

            Yes, there might be. That has nothing to do with her punishment. The magistrate does not care about repentance. He cares about the crime. Repentance would therefore reflect on her character. It would not mitigate her sentence. To be quite honest with you, I have always believed that Susan Smith wasn’t condemned because she was pretty and white. I think she would have been fried if she had been black.

            The issue is there are people who can experience remorse and turn their lives around.

            No, the issue is that there are some crimes that should put you beyond the possibility of rehabilitation. The offender can turn his life around, but he must be content to live out that renewal while incarcerated. There are other crimes that demand a long imprisonment. The offender can hope for rehabilitation but only when he is old and his life is already well spent.

            So the imposition of vicarious punishment and despair is only restricted to violent offenders?

            I’m not even sure where that came from. The entire penal system is vicarious punishment. What we are arguing about is the severity of that vicarious punishment.

            As the founding principle on which to base your whole criminal justice system it is primitive.

            It is not the founding principle. It is the upper limit of punishment. How much time should a man serve for getting drunk and killing a family with a car? What is the upper limit of punishment for that crime?

            Hell lies beyond the grave, not this side of it.

            I’m glad you reslize that. I have been wondering if you understood that divine punishment for sin has no rehabilitative purpose. That has implications.

            How does that follow?

            Because the punishment does not fit the crime.

          • Jack thinks this is maybe where we differ: ” … divine punishment for sin has no rehabilitative purpose. That has implications.”

            The implications being? Are you modelling your perceptions of temporal punishment on God’s final and irrevocable judgement when we face Him after death? If so, then you will need to consider how He responds to people whilst they are still living. King David’s murder of Uriah and the woman caught in adultery spring to mind.

          • IanCad

            And of course in punishing the transgressor we must heed the Word:

            “Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.”
            Matthew 5:7.

            I cannot see that a justice system in which mercy, forgiveness and redemption are not integral parts can reflect the teachings of Our Saviour.

            I lived in South Carolina. Believe me, if Susan Smith was not pretty far gone she would have been sentenced to death.

          • carl jacobs

            God responds to people through the atoning work for Christ, Jack. Sin isn’t overlooked. It was punished.

            I am saying that there is no biblical mandate that all punishment have a rehabilitative aspect. That is true in both the temporal and eternal testimony of Scripture. You can’t demand every punishment be focused on rehabilitation as if God is Father to every man. Not everyone can say “Abba. Father.” Not everyone is adopted. When God judged Pharaoh, there was no rehabilitation in view. When God judged the Priests of Baal there was no rehabilitation in view. When God judged the Assyrian army before Jerusalem, there was no rehabilitation in view. When God judged Sodom, there was no rehabilitation in view. Rehabilitation is not a necessary component of punishment.

            To whom then should the Magistrate show mercy? On what basis? He is a divine instrument charged with punishing the Law breaker. He is supposed to judge according to the Law and he is supposed to judge without being a respector of persons. What constitutes mercy? Should he not put the man to death? Should he not sentence the man to life in prison? Perhaps he should set the offender free, for anything less is not merciful. And in so doing, what does he do to the Law and its purpose to avenge the victim. For that is what the law does. That is what the law is for.

            There are many who may show mercy, Jack. But the magistrate is not supposed to be one of them. You can turn the other cheek. The officer of the Law cannot. God did not show mercy absent the Cross. He decreed the Cross so that He could show mercy. Come the judgment at the White Throne, there will be no mercy. Men will be judged according to their deeds. The judgment will be just and beyond appeal.

            So, yes. Our temporal justice system must at some level model that eternal reality. Not every punishment comes with hope attached. Parole is not a right Men do not understand that. Our system teaches that nothing is final – that a second chance always exists. It doesn’t.

            That’s the brutal awful eternal reality.

          • “I am saying that there is no biblical mandate that all punishment have a rehabilitative aspect. That is true in both the temporal and eternal testimony of Scripture.”

            Jack would suggest the opposite. The bible is replete with examples to the contrary. God’s correction and discipline while we live is aimed at repentance and restoration.

            “Be patient, then, while correction lasts; God is treating you as his children. Was there ever a son whom his father did not correct? No, correction is the common lot of all; you must be bastards, not true sons, if you are left without it. We have known what it was to accept correction from earthly fathers, and with reverence; shall we not submit, far more willingly, to the Father of a world of spirits, and draw life from him? They, after all, only corrected us for a short while, at their own caprice; he does it for our good, to give us a share in that holiness which is his. For the time being, all correction is painful rather than pleasant; but afterwards, when it has done its work of discipline, it yields a harvest of good dispositions, to our great peace.”
            (Hebrews 12: 7-12)

            “You can’t demand every punishment be focused on rehabilitation as if God is Father to every man. Not everyone can say “Abba. Father.” Not everyone is adopted.”

            Agreed but how do we know who the predestined elect are and how He has determined this? Jack would be reluctant to identify all murderers and violent criminals as reprobates who must be locked up for life and deprived of hope during their remaining years.

            “To whom then should the Magistrate show mercy? On what basis? He is a divine instrument charged with punishing the Law breaker. He is supposed to judge according to the Law and he is supposed to judge without being a respector of persons. What constitutes mercy? Should he not put the man to death? Should he not sentence the man to life in prison?”

            Is the magistrate a divine instrument charged with punishing the law breaker? Your use of Law. Are you referencing God’s Law or man’s law? The State exists to promote the common good and to ensure law and order in a nation.

            “Perhaps he should set the offender free, for anything less is not merciful. And in so doing, what does he do to the Law and its purpose to avenge the victim. For that is what the law does. That is what the law is for.”

            God forgives, Carl. It is Him who has been offended against. He cleanses us from sin and restores fellowship between Himself and the repentant criminal. The societal consequences of crime can be severe and must be endured. But God can work through those consequences too.

            “There are many who may show mercy, Jack. But the magistrate is not supposed to be one of them.”
            Showing mercy is not the same as keeping in mind the aims of the criminal justice system. Is it simply to be retributive or can it aim to rehabilitate?
            “You can turn the other cheek. The officer of the Law cannot. God did not show mercy absent the Cross. He decreed the Cross so that He could show mercy.”
            Yes and it was an act of self sacrifice and love that redeemed us – not an act of pure wrath and vengeance.
            “Come the judgment at the White Throne, there will be no mercy. Men will be judged according to their deeds. The judgment will be just and beyond appeal.”
            Men will be judged according to their souls and their hearts, Carl.

            “So, yes. Our temporal justice system must at some level model that eternal reality. Not every punishment comes with hope attached. Parole is not a right Men do not understand that. Our system teaches that nothing is final – that a second chance always exists. It doesn’t.”
            Parole is not a right but a concession, agreed. And while we live, every punishment, be it from God or the state, comes with the possibility of reform and amendment.

          • carl jacobs

            Oh, and BTW. I haven’t been dealing with deterrence at all. If Bob commits a violent crime, the best way to deal with Bob is to put him in prison for a very long time. Bob can’t re-offend if he is locked away. But couldn’t Bob be rehabilitated? Perhaps. Perhaps not. At such a point, you are trading the marginal cost to Bob against the marginal risk to Bob’s next potential victim. Bob by his prior action has already compromised his standing in that trade. I repeat He can’t reoffend if he is locked up.

            Not every crime warrants a second chance, Jack. Some things you should only get one chance not to do.

          • Agreed – but ………. mitigation, Carl?

            Susan Smith was diagnosed with a Dependent Personality Disorder. Her biological father committed suicide when she was a child of 6 years old after a fractious relationship with her mother. She had no stable home life. Smith was sexually assaulted in her teens by her stepfather, who admitted this and when she was a teenager and had *consensual* sex with her as an adult. This stepfather was once a big man around town too – a political leader, church goer and businessman. At 13, Smith attempted suicide. After graduating from high school in 1989, she made a second attempt at suicide.

            The sins of the father and mother, Carl.

            And the letter from the man she hoped to married. Dated October 17, 1994, 8 days before the murder:

            “You will, without a doubt, make some lucky man a great wife. But unfortunately, it won’t be me …. I could really fall for you. You have some endearing qualities about you, and I think that you are a terrific person. But like I have told you before, there are some things about you that aren’t suited for me, and yes, I am speaking about your children.”

            All these people – Susan Smith’s family, her husband who’d left her and Tom Findlay – share some guilt for this crime.

          • carl jacobs

            Jack

            Everybody has a sad story. The only person responsible for pushing those kids into the water is Susan Smith. This is exactly what I was talking about. You are externalizing her guilt. You are finding ways to corporatize the blame. That’s the moral trivialization I referred to. I don’t care who did what to her. None of that mitigates her decision to murder her own children.

            Above all else, she had a duty to protect. No one made her surrender that duty.

          • “Everybody has a sad story. The only person responsible for pushing those kids into the water is Susan Smith.”

            Not everybody’s “sad story” causes impairment of personality and mental functioning, Carl. And the guilt here is corporal; its not moral trivialisation.

            “I don’t care who did what to her. None of that mitigates her decision to murder her own children …. Above all else, she had a duty to protect. No one made her surrender that duty.”

            “Decision” – a conclusion or resolution reached after consideration. You need to reflect on the decision making process behind her decision.

            The jury in the small town where she grew up voted unanimously against the death sentence. They had their reasons.

          • carl jacobs

            Jack

            Not everybody’s “sad story” causes impairment of personality and mental functioning, Carl. And the guilt here is [corporate]; its not moral trivialisation.

            The perfect synopsis of everything I have been resisting on this thread. We have in view the ‘brokenness’ (“impairment of personality and mental functioning”) that moves moral responsibility beyond the offender. She’s a victim now as well, for who is it that ‘broke’ her? Oh, she still knew right from wrong But she was still “impaired” enough that we should sympathize with her over her “broken” decision to shove her kids in the lake and drown them like kittens in a bag. And all because she wanted to keep her new boyfriend. Perhaps she was just venal and selfish. Or is the now prima facia evidence of “brokenness”.

            And then we have corporate guilt. She didn’t make that decision in a vacuum, after all. Why, there was the father who let the marriage fall apart. And the new boyfriend. And her parents And the six o’clock evening news. And the phase of the moon. Why there were lots of people standing right next to her when she pushed that car in the water. Except there weren’t. No one made her respond like that. She chose to do it. And yet you say you aren’t trivializing her offense. Everything you have written is intended to lessen her guilt. Everything you have written is nothing but the same litany of excuses I listed prior. “It’s wasn’t me. It wasn’t my fault. I was abused. I don’t have qualifications. I have a drug dependency I have emotional problems.” To which the only appropriate answer is “So what?”

          • Carl

            Now you’re trivialising the experiences of Susan Smith from a position of ignorance and mocking the possible trauma of her childhood and the impact it may have had on her capacity to act with full malice aforethought. “So what” is not a Christian response to the damage suffered by individuals in this fallen world.

            Tell Jack, do you believe individuals are simply creatures of the light or dark? The only root of crime is venality and selfishness? Psychiatry and psychology is all just a human invention to avoid personal sinfulness and a secular way to explain evil conduct?

          • carl jacobs

            I’m not trivializing her experiences. I am discounting them as a mitigating factor. Let’s say a man named … oh, let’s call him Jerry for no particular reason … let’s say Jerry gets caught sodomizing a nine year-old boy in a locker room shower. If it was subsequently revealed that Jerry was himself sexually abused as a child, would we say:

            1. Pity poor Jerry. He is a victim, too. The abuse he suffered made it difficult to for him to act with full malice aforethought.

            2. Jerry was an adult. He knew right from wrong. He was responsible to act according to what he knew. Throw him under the jail, and brick up the floor.

            Hrmm. I betting on two.

            Don’t tell me your sad story to justify your bad behavior. I don’t care about your story in that context. I don’t care about your self-serving justifications. You threw away sympathy when you pulled that boys underpants down around his ankles. Or (alternatively) when you pushed your kids into the lake and listened to them scream until the water muffled the sound. .

          • Oh cut the amateur dramatics, Carl. Just answer Jack’s question:

            “Tell Jack, do you believe individuals are simply creatures of the light or dark? The only root of crime is venality and selfishness? Psychiatry and psychology is all just a human invention to avoid personal sinfulness and a secular way to explain evil conduct?”

          • carl jacobs

            Jack

            Your question is meaningless to me. I have no idea what “creatures of the light or dark” even means. I don’t much care about the “roots” of crime because it ultimately reduces to a choice and you can no more explain a choice than you can explain the mind. Once the choice is made the “roots” don’t matter anymore. And, yes, frankly, I am suspicious of both psychology and psychiatry.

            I know this. The Law doesn’t care about the whole person when it comes to convicting a man of a crime. It doesn’t matter if Ted Bundy taught Sunday school. It doesn’t matter if the local priest ran a soup kitchen while he was screwing the altar boy. A man is judged for his actions. He doesn’t credit to offset the bad things he did.

            But what about sentencing? Shouldn’t it matter to the punishment? No. You are judging the man for the objective harm he inflicted on the victim. The “roots” don’t matter in that equation. I don’t care about the “deep traumas” that allegedly enabled him or impelled him or incapacitated him or whatever. I care about the harm he inflicted. The “why” doesn’t mitigate the harm. Therefore the “why” shouldn’t mitigate the punishment.

          • “I don’t care about the “deep traumas” that allegedly enabled him or impelled him or incapacitated him or whatever. I care about the harm he inflicted.”

            So all those WWI soldiers *allegedly* suffering PTS were justly shot? No mitigation. They deserved the punishment. They knew what they were doing; they knew it was wrong; they did it anyway.

            ” A man is judged for his actions.”

            All crime is veniality and sinfulness and eye for an eye is required.

            “And, yes, frankly, I am suspicious of both psychology and psychiatry.”

            You don’t say.

          • carl jacobs

            Jack

            All you are saying … over and over and over again … is that the circumstances of life reduce a man’s capacity for moral volition. You seem to think that Bob is less culpable for his crime if you can find some sympathetic “root” cause for his actions. You want to attribute blame to the “root” circumstances in order to diffuse the guilt of the offender. By such means you seek to reduce his punishment so that you can achieve your actual goal of restoring as much of his life to him as possible. And that’s where we part company. I am not interested in minimizing his punishment. I am interested in vindicating his victim.

            By all means, do your root cause analysis. Help him as best you can. Assist him to search out his demons. But you will do it while he’s in jail. Because none of it should mitigate his punishment. He had a tough life. That’s terrible. Not everyone who has a tough life commits crime. He wasn’t compelled against his will. He chose. He did the crime. He does the time. All of it.

            All crime is veniality and sinfulness and eye for an eye is required.

            Yes, Jack. An eye for an eye. That is what the state is supposed to do. It’s not a damn therapist. You want to medicalize evil. You want to see patients and not criminals. When you use that logic to reduce punishment, all you do is make excuses.

          • Jack actually believes punishment can be helpful for both victim and perpetrator. Less so for victims as they recover best when they forgive. And it is through despair and hitting rock bottom that people often turn their lives around.

            It is the uncompromising viciousness in some of your comments that concern Jack. All you see is an offender and not a person. You aren’t seeing punishment as a method of reform. For you its just retribution. By what right do you personally carry this sense of outrage and expect the state to act on it? That’s how it strikes Jack. Its the same spirit that motivates vigilantes.

            “I am not interested in minimizing his punishment. I am interested in vindicating his victim.”
            This rests on the premise that an ‘eye for an eye’ promotes some good for the victim or wider for society. That revenge is helpful. In Jack’s experience this isn’t so. It’s not a road that promotes peace of mind or recovery.

            “By all means, do your root cause analysis. Help him as best you can. Assist him to search out his demons. But you will do it while he’s in jail.”

            Some movement then? This at least would forestall execution as an option. The 16 year old boy shot during WWI for desertion might have a chance then.

            “Because none of it should mitigate his punishment. He had a tough life. That’s terrible. Not everyone who has a tough life commits crime.”

            You’re full of sympathy and understanding, Carl.

            “He wasn’t compelled against his will. He chose. He did the crime. He does the time. All of it.”

            Its the nature of the exercise of choice where we are so far apart. It’s this that needs to be factored into mitigation. That’s why in Britain there is scope for judges to impose minimum and maximum sentences. It gives them discretion. Justice is wider than having a list of fixed sentences for crimes.

            “Yes, Jack. An eye for an eye. That is what the state is supposed to do. It’s not a damn therapist.”

            The state is there to promote the common good, Carl. Exacting revenge may make us feel good in the short-run. That somehow we have gone some way to righting a wrong. A criminal justice system is intended to achieve more than this. Its not an impersonal force that can act without regard to the human dignity of prisoners and victims alike.

            “You want to medicalize evil. You want to see patients and not criminals. When you use that logic to reduce punishment, all you do is make excuses.”

            No, Carl. Its not either/or. Jack is advocating a more tailored approach. All crime is different and all individuals are different. Let’s be clear, when we cause harm to others the gravest offence is against God – not man. And the temporal ‘payment’ due for this has to weigh more than an ‘eye for an eye’. We know God has forgiven the offence already and we just have to access that forgiveness. A society and individuals are not assisted in their growth by believing revenge is a path that restores peace.

        • alternative_perspective

          Listing off the statistics proves various things, such as:
          1. Institutional society has created a system whereby the institutionalised are more likely to sin.
          2. The structures of society a more likely to lead to the week and despised within society committing sins.
          The Gospels, nay the whole cannon scripture teaches that whole societies are culpable. That sin is most certainly a communal act, as is salvation.
          One may individually choose Jesus but it is the Church that is redeemed, it is the church that is the Bride and Body of Christ, it is the Church that is whisked away to the wedding feast of the lamb and its within the church that one grows in faith and solidarity with the wider body of the church.
          So on the question of the individual and the state; it is a very Jewish Both And, rather than a Greek Either Or.
          So if we can be saved as a church, then we can surely be damned as a society. If we can be redeemed as a body then surely we can be demeaned as a community.
          If the church is reponsible for proclaiming the Gospel and going into the world to make disciples of the nations then surely those nations can also be responsible for preaching materialism, fear and rebellion and making disciples of the devil?
          If the church will be held accountable before God then so surely will the nations. If, as in Revelation, Jesus can call individual churches to account and implore them turn from their sin, back to their first loves then will not Jesus hold the nations similarly to account?
          If an individual body of believers can be held responsible for salvation then cannot a body of unbelievers beheld responsible for condemnation?
          If such a body can be held responsible then so surely society is responsible for its evil, and is not a society both an artefact of the communal and individual? So society is also responsible for the evils committed by the individual.
          Its Both And, rather than Either Or.

    • IanCad

      Carl, to quote you:

      “in general, punishment for crime is too lenient in the West”

      Perhaps in these Sceptered Isles you may have a point; but, if in that collective ‘West” you are including the USA then you and I have a difference my friend.

      The US justice system is a disgrace. Three strikes, indeterminate sentencing, aggressive prosecutors and plea bargaining, the election of judges, the privatization of prisons, all conspire to make your great land seem to contradict the very principles of liberty and justice on which it was founded.

      !50 years for Bernie Madoff, caught fleecing his friends.

      Albert Woodfox; Over forty years in solitary. A clear violation of the Eighth Amendment.

      Check out this recent over-reaction:

      http://www.lakeconews.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=39062:man-convicted-of-assaulting-officer-sentenced-to-more-than-a-century-in-prison&catid=1:latest&Itemid=197

      • carl jacobs

        IanCad

        I have my own complaints about the US justice system. You make some valid points but they don’t really change the basis of my argument. Punishment for crime is too lenient in the West and in the US in particular. Especially violent crime. We are too concerned with second chances.

        • IanCad

          Carl,

          Well, it’s encouraging to learn that you, also, have complaints about the US justice system; but quite how you figure that the US in particular errs on the side of gentleness I cannot fathom.

          Ian

    • CliveM

      Carl

      A Prison system that simply punishes and doesn’t rehabilitate is of no (or little) use to society. Unless you intend to lock up permanently (to expensive and impractical) or execute for relatively minor crimes (never going to happen) the vast majority of prisoners will be released back into society. Unless rehabilitated they will simply break the law again.

      Which is expensive, never mind the general impact on society of their crime.

      I am comfortable with the concept of punishment, however I also want rehabilitation (or repentance if you will) without which the Prison system simply isn’t doing its job.

      • carl jacobs

        Clive

        I haven’t been arguing against the concept of rehabilitation. I have been arguing against weighing punishment against rehabilitation. I have argued that some crimes should put the offender beyond the possibility of rehabilitation. I have argued that current punishments for crime are too light. Prison is primarily about punishment. It is not only about punishment.

        • CliveM

          Carl

          Some crimes do put people beyond being returned to society, but not beyond some attempt of moral rehabilitation. They will after all need to be controlled until the day they die and a rehabilitated prisoner will be easier to look after.

          Actually for me the main purpose of prisons is to put anti social and dangerous persons in a place where they are no longer a danger to society. Then to punish, but finally and importantly to rehabilitate. I want them returned to society safe.

          Actually thinking about it, I want them to be safe when returned, more then I want them punished (important though that is) as my future safety may depend on it.

          • carl jacobs

            Clive

            I suppose I should make it clear that I have assumed a necessary component of rehabilitation is release from prison. I haven’t been talking about the effort of improving a man’s character even though he will remain in prison. But my basic point is this:

            1. You determine the punishment independent of any thought of rehabilitation.

            2. You enforce the punishment independent of any thought of rehabilitation.

            3. Within that context you seek to rehabilitate the man.

          • CliveM

            Carl

            I note you have said that punishment is to lenient in the west. Do you mean that terms are to short or that prisons are to cushy? Or both?

            In the US you have a re -arrest taste of 67% and a re-prison rate of 52%. In western terms your prisons are harsh (particularly the Supermaxes), you lock up high levels of prisoners and your incarceration terms are long in comparison.
            Norway has a maximum term of 21 years and it’s prisons are relatively speaking cushy. Every cell has a TV, computer, proper sanitation.

            They also have a re-offending rate of 20%.

            If the purpose of the Criminal justice system is to keep society safe, which system works?

  • Thank you for that, your Grace. It is so encouraging to read these things.
    I used to go into Exeter prison some years ago with the Gideons and help with a mid-week meeting. I can tell your readers that God is doing great things in prisons. There’s much more that could be told.

    • Martin, Gillan wrote this article …. Do pay attention.

  • IanCad

    An encouraging post Gillan.

    Prison ministry is not easy – bless them that do.

    But, we are admonished so to do.

    “—I was in prison and ye came unto me.”

    “—and in prison, and ye visited me not.”

    Matthew 25:36,43

    Not only spiritual comfort, but also hope must be offered to villains.

    A most inspiring broadcast of “The Bottom Line” was aired on Radio4 last Thursday night. John Timpson, of whom I had never heard, employs ex-prisoners in his huge chain of shops. Not exclusively by any means but currently about three hundred.

    Good for him.

    A link to the programme for those who may wish to hear the BBC doing what it does better than any other broadcaster:

  • len

    Crime and punishment. Well if punishment deters then the worse the punishment the better I suppose?.
    Might work for some I suppose but there again why do we have so many prisons and are building more ?.In the UK some crimes go un registered so the crime figures are considerably worse than registered.

    So why preach the gospel to’ sinners’ why not only to ‘good people’?. Jesus portrayed the Love of God to the lonely, the lost, the rejected, the outcasts of society. It is the Grace and Mercy of God that draws many people to God and this was illustrated perfectly in the work of Jesus Christ on Earth

    So to get back to the point in question …once a person becomes aware of his /her inability to change themselves and hears the Gospel of Jesus Christ and honestly desires change then the possibility of transformation is entirely possible.