It is almost impossible to imagine what it’s like to be a victim of crime if you’ve never actually experienced it. No matter how many films or television programmes you watch or newspaper articles you read, it’s not the same as being there and feeling it The subject is far too big and complex to go into here but there are many opinions about people who commit every type of crime, from the small-scale to mass-murder.
Some of the more common comments made against prisoners include that prisons are like hotels; some people become institutionalised and it’s just an ever-revolving door; many don’t feel any sort of remorse, may have carried out the most heinous of crimes and have no conscience; they often come out as better-trained criminals and are not interested in improving their education or life chances; prison officers and their families can be threatened if they don’t bring in contraband; the prisoners get off light and should have longer sentences; they should just lock them up and throw away the key; it’s known that prisons don’t work but nothing better has been introduced.
It is very difficult for a normal human being to forgive someone who has committed a crime, especially if it involved a child or vulnerable person. Many of the prisoners inside have long-term mental health or drug problems or have a prolonged history of abuse or poor parenting. There is a prison population of around 85,000 people. It is estimated that almost 53,000 self-harmed in the year to September 2021 and that 371 died in English prisons during the same year.
And what about the victims in all this? Very often the effects of the crime, whether on themselves or a friend or family member, can last a life-time and flashbacks are a regular occurrence. The offender might just get a warning or a very short sentence whereas the victim can suffer the consequences of crime for ever. Prisoners’ families, too, suffer when a member of their family is jailed, particularly if it’s a long sentence.
Graham – isn’t it a normal human reaction to be unable to forgive someone who has caused loss, hurt, pain or even death to someone else? How can people have sympathy or understanding towards prisoners? What’s the point of jailing people if they’re going to repeat their offences? Would Jesus be so forgiving if he came back down to earth today and saw the level of crime being committed?
Rev Graham replies:
Thank you Carol for your in depth question about how we should respond to people concerning the levels of crime in society. Also how the criminal justice system should work in regards to the length of imprisonments for particular crimes and to what extent should we help people recover. The issue of forgiveness is massive and not easy with or without God’s help.
We can all agree that if a crime is committed some level of punishment that involves time in a prison or correction centre is good for society and a deterrent for future acts of crime. Such a system may help an individual look towards a different way of making a living and choosing a particular lifestyle. Once ‘time is completed for the crime,’ society offers some form of ‘gracious freedom’ to seek and establish a renewed life and purpose.
Depending on one’s political view, culture and societal models, attitudes to crime and punishment will differ and change over time for better or for worst. In a democratic society with a heritage of Christian values there will be an Old Testament view of taking an eye for an eye alongside a New Testament view as found in the Lord’s Prayer whereby we forgive those who have transgressed us as we have been graciously forgiven by God the Father. In a totalitarian setting there would be more of a propensity to put a prisoner in custody and throw away the key or implement some form of capital punishment.
There are many different theories on punishment and crime respectively and may fall into two camps respectively such as the Utilitarian view which sees imprisonment as a way to discourage any future wrong doing. A Retributive belief is one whereby punishment is given to an individual because they have transgressed the law of the land and therefore should be punished as an example to others of bad behaviour. Charles Colson the founder of the Prison Fellowship concluded that there was ‘cycles of crime and cycles of renewal’ and felt that “the ground is level at the foot of the cross and there is no life beyond Gods reach.”
May we consider for a moment how Jesus might have responded to the issue of forgiveness and crime? Jesus is an example in respect to crime and punishment as he ministered to all who were hurting and in need. On the cross he was innocent of any crime and shared those beautiful words of compassion for those who persecuted him: Father forgive them, because they do not know what they are doing.
The Apostle Paul in 2 Corinthian 2: 5 – 8 shares some thoughts about pain, punishment and forgiveness which are very relevant to our thinking and application Any view of crime and punishment will vary according to personal beliefs and experiences. If we have been transgressed then we may be more of an opinion that the transgressor has to be punished accordingly. Many people like Jesus are willing to forgive a perpetrator but accept that a relevant punishment should be given in the hope that the person may change their behaviour in the future.
In society if actions become too liberal and lack an adequate correction process then it will become a recipe for anarchy. If the laws are too strict and people’s freedom are curtailed then society will be restrictive as exampled in many cultures and systems in the world today. We all are liable to committing crimes that are innocuous or very deliberate, harmless or dangerous. We all have opportunities to forgive and pardon, condemn or sentence.
For thirteen years I worked in a supported housing scheme in Bury Greater Manchester for Adullam Homes. I interacted with hundreds of individuals and conducted many visits to high or low secure prisons to interview people who were looking for a place to live in community having completed their sentences. It was a joy and privilege to be able to offer them a home with support that gave them a sense of a new beginning without prejudice or judgement.
I have learnt that for the majority of ex-offenders there had always been a set of circumstances that led up to their acts of crime having in some cases been offended themselves. In the world of crime and punishment there is always a cycle of reoffending and it’s difficult to implement real change that offers restoration and renewal. It is easy to condemn and disregard but it’s important to have within society processes that facilitate change and renewal.
As a Christian Carol, when we have confessed our sins or crimes against God and our neighbours then in repentance and faith we can experience forgiveness that transforms our way of living. It’s not normal to forgive those who have wronged us but as we are forgiven by God he enables us to forgive, by choice, those we love and those we don’t particular love but we can embrace:
A new heart of love where previously hate existed.
A new mind of peace and purpose rather than one filled with jealousy and anger to our fellow human beings.
A new spirit of joy and strength that helps us to follow Gods commandment to love the ‘Lord our God with all our soul and strength and our neighbours as ourselves.
Here are some other bible references that relate to your question Caro around the topic of crime and punishment, forgiveness and renewal. Enjoy listening to Amazing Grace by Chris Tomlin
Prisoner and Family Support:
Prison Fellowship firstname.lastname@example.org
Partners of Prisoners & Family Support Group – Tel: 0161 850 1988
PACT – Prisoners, Families, Communities – Care Trust –
Prisoners’ Families Helpline 0808 808 2003, Tel:020 7735 9535 or email email@example.com
CLINKS (Charity for Ex-Prisoners) Tel: 020 7383 0966
Greater Manchester Mental Health (Bolton, Salford, Trafford & City of Manchester)
Tel: 0800 953 0285 – 24 hour helpline.
Out There – Tel: 0161 232 8986 or firstname.lastname@example.org
On the Out – Tel: 0738 7704604 and 0794 3775526 or email@example.com
Back on Track Charity – Tel: 0161 834 1661 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Booth Centre – Tel: 0161 835 2499 or email@example.com
Criminal Injury Compensation Board – Call free 0800 5874478 or 01925 635444
Safeline – Tel: 01926 402498. Male survivor line – 0808 800 5005
Samaritans – Tel: 116123 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Victim Support – Tel: 0808 1689111 (24hr) or 0300 303 0162/0161 200 1950 (Gtr. M/cr)
Hate Crime – True Vision – email@example.com Organisations that can help.
Support as a Victim of Crime – http://www.gov.uk
MIND – mental health charity – Infoline 0300 123 3393 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Citizens Advice Bureau – www.citizensadvice.org.uk
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