People from across the political system have called for reform of the penal system in the United States. With Rethinking Incarceration: Advocating for Justice that Restores, Dominique DuBois Gilliard delivers both a bevvy of information for those curious about the penal system alongside a call to work for higher justice.
The book is arranged around two parts: “The Roots and Evolution of Mass Incarceration” and “The Church’s Witness and Testimony.” These parts have much interplay with each other. The first part lays the groundwork for understanding how the United States has become the world’s largest prison system. He grounds this in a slew of historical details, starting with an examination of the “War on Drugs” and how it led to a massive upturn in numbers of incarcerated. Gilliard notes how Black Codes paved the way for “Neoslavery” and the use of the penal system to effectively make slaves once again. He notes these historical perspectives alongside discussion of the “pipelines” (to prison) of mental health, privatized prisons for profit, and immigration. Each of these has clear justice issues that cannot be ignored. The School-to-Prison pipeline, something I had only heard referenced but not really dug into before, seems quite clear to me after reading this book. Essentially, by allowing police presence into schools, we have criminalized delinquency at an alarming rate. Things that may have earned detention or suspension before now yield prison sentences to minors. Frankly, this seems insane. I was blown away by learning that very few states have any special training for the “resource officers” that are put into schools to watch our children is equally disturbing. There is no requirement for any kind of child psychology, de-escalating situations with minors, and the like whatsoever in most places.
After establishing this historical basis for the increase in incarceration rates, Gilliard turns to seeing what the church might do about this plight. He does not ignore historical perspective here, either. One of the most moving and interesting chapters in the book is “The Prisoners’ Pastor: Chaplaincy and Theology’s Institutional Impact.” Therein, Gilliard uses chaplains at the notorious Sing Sing prison in New York as a case study. It was thought by some that sending chaplains to the prisoners was pointless because they were “too far gone” to be impacted by such a ministry. The impact of the persistent chaplains in the face of serious opposition–including by those who ran the prison–is a wonderful tale, but not one without stumbling blocks either. It is also clear that when the chaplains become tools of the system, it can be incredibly damaging.
Another chapter examines the nature of punishment and how a Christian view of the penal system ought to be oriented towards not just punishment but also bringing people back into community. He argues this through an analysis of biblical justice and showing that restoration is a major theme. One of the major ways we can help to cut down on the system of mass incarceration is to educate rather than resort to exclusion and punishment every single time.
Rethinking Incarceration: Advocating for Justice that Restores is a fascinating, heart-rending, and immediately applicable book. Agree or disagree with Dominique DuBois Gilliard’s positions, it should be read by Christians who wish to think discerningly about our penal system. I highly recommend it.
Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of the book for review by the publisher. I was not required to give any specific kind of feedback whatsoever.
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I’m excited to present this week of “Really Recommended Posts” to you, dear readers, because it is a truly extraordinary lineup. I’ve worked ’round the clock (or at least for an hour) to read and bring to you some excellent posts from all over. Our diverse reads today include the latest Pixar movie, “Inside Out,” the necessity of not sharing (or apologizing for) fake news, women in sacramental churches, an exciting new book, and the criminal justice system. As always, let me know what you think! Be sure to let the authors know you appreciated their posts as well.
Inside Out– One of my favorite web sites, Empires and Mangers, takes a look at Pixar’s latest smash hit, “Inside Out.” Anthony Weber looks at the worldview issues raised in the movie, as well as how it might be used to start discussions about some good topics with children. Check out this great reflection.
An Embarassing Week for Christians Sharing Fake News– Here is some advice that we all need to take to heart. Ed Stetzer goes beyond just calling on Christians to check their sources to a real urgency to repenting and admitting wrong when we do share falsities. This is a phenomenal read that deserves to go viral.
Women Leadership in Sacramental Churches– The debate over women’s “role” in the church looks different in those church bodies which are sacramental in nature. I am Lutheran and have experienced the kind of reasoning outlined in this post to try to restrict women’s places in the church firsthand. This is a good read that will not only broaden perspectives about sacramental churches but also make headway in the debate over women in the church.
New Book by James Warner Wallace: “God’s Crime Scene: A Cold Case Detective Examines the Evidence for a Divinely Created Universe– Here is some background on an exciting upcoming release from the author of “Cold Case Christianity,” J. Warner Wallace. It looks like it will be examining arguments like the fine-tuning argument for the existence of God. I wrote a glowing review of Wallace’s previous book, and I look forward to reading this one as well.
Obama frees drug offenders whose terms ‘didn’t fit crimes’– I think that the criminal justice system has turned into a major issue of injustice that we need to address. I think the President’s calling attention to this is a great thing, regardless of what political stance I and others take. There is gross injustice in inequality of sentencing for drug-related crimes, and there is data to back up that much sentencing is racially-biased. We as Christians must speak up for those treated unjustly, and this is an issue worth talking about. What are your thoughts? I’d love to read them here.