America’s prisons now have far more inmates than they were designed to hold. A recent federal study revealed that this overcrowding results in discipline problems, increased violence, illness and suicides. According to the FBI, three-quarters of those released from prison are re-arrested within four years. It is thus evident that the prison experience is more often than not destructive rather than rehabilitating.
Criminal offenders should be punished as a matter of simple justice. However, the punishment should advance the public interest and, whenever possible, provide restitution to the innocent victim. Dangerous criminals must be imprisoned to protect society. However, half of those in prison have been convicted of non-violent offenses. As an alternative or supplement to incarceration, Biblically-based sanctions, such as restitution, would benefit the victim of the crime and society in general, as well as help to rehabilitate the offender. Incidentally, the cost of this approach would be only a fraction of incarceration.
The NAE, therefore, urges the enactment of state and federal legislation such as the “Sentencing Improvement Act” to be introduced in the 98th Congress by Senators Nunn and Armstrong. Such legislation would insure sufficient prison space for dangerous offenders and the restoration of victims by providing that non-dangerous offenders be punished through strictly enforced orders of restitution to the victims of crimes and through community service.
We also urge pastors to encourage their churches to become actively involved in prison ministries through well-qualified evangelical agencies which specialize in this type of ministry.
Correction officials are urged to provide maximum opportunities for volunteers from such organizations since complete rehabilitation comes as the Gospel of Jesus Christ transforms the heart of the individual.