Christian hope and criminal justice


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According to US Lawyer Bryan Stevenson (2012), ‘our current punishment philosophy does nothing for no one, and I think that’s the orientation that we have to change.’ Criminologists often refer to the pains of punishment or pains of imprisonment (Sykes, 1958; Dubber, 1996; Crewe, 2011), with freedoms curtailed, separation from loved ones, and, with the advent of mass incarceration - especially in the US (Simon, 2011) - being warehoused without meaningful rehabilitation. Contact with the criminal justice system can be a hopeless experience for everyone involved, for victims, accused, professionals, and the rest of us as society. For those imprisoned there may be some hope of release, but this is often with minimal support for reintegration, restricted employment opportunities and, in some US States, no right to vote post-release (Hull, 2006). Mass incarceration is also manifestly racial (Wacquant, 2002; Hinton, 2016). The treatment of those convicted should not come as a surprise; as the criminologist Nils Christie (1981:i) once put it, ‘imposing punishment within the institution of law means the infliction of pain, intended as pain.’ We punish people by intentionally harming them, and this harm spreads to the rest of us as society reflecting our instinct for retribution, an instinct that is seldom satisfied.

In this chapter an alternative is suggested informed by Christian teaching on hope, with specific focus on kingdom theology.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationReligion Matters 2
Subtitle of host publicationPerspectives from the Sciences and Humanities
EditorsPaul Babie, Rick Sarre
Place of PublicationNew York
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 28 Sept 2022


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