RESTORE! PRISON REFORM A FAITH IMPERATIVE IN ARKANSAS

Christians in this country need to choose. We cannot continue to celebrate security by means of mass incarceration and in the same breath call ourselves Christian.

This conflict between Christian faith and the abuses of incarceration is accelerating. In the past month five men have died in Varnar Supermax, a men’s prison in Lincoln County, Arkansas.Three of the men died within twenty-four hours of each other. All of the deaths were allegedly related to use of the illegal drug K2.

How do men under constant supervision obtain illegal drugs? Most likely the drugs are smuggled in by the prison employees tasked with their care. How is it possible for inmates to alter their state to the point of death without anyone noticing? The obvious answer is neglect. Why does an intervention come only at the point of removing a dead body from the cell? This is our reality because we live in a state that values retribution over restoration.

The prophet Isaiah had some stern words about those who are subjected to unjust prison conditions. Isaiah calls them

“a people robbed and plundered,
all of them are trapped in holes
and hidden in prisons;
they have become a prey with no one to rescue,
a spoil with no one to say, “Restore!” (Isaiah 42:22-23)

“Restore!” That’s our job as Christians, as people of faith.

The path taken by the Arkansas prisons to try to address this drug epidemic is the opposite of restoration; in fact, it is only making it worse. Arkansas Prisons are now on lockdown in an effort to control inmate access to K2. In another misdirected effort aimed at safety, we plunge prisoners deeper into darkness and secure them even tighter in their holes.

Instead of lockdown, there ought to be an examination of the circumstances that lead people to incarceration. Over 2.2 million Americans are incarcerated, many with unreliable convictions and excessive sentences.  Brian Stevenson of Equal Justice Initiative states that one of the first steps to restoration is establishing fair practices in our criminal justice system. In an essay Confronting Mass Imprisonment and Restoring Fairness to Collateral Review of Criminal Cases,he calls us to action: “A generation of policy makers, legislators, lawyers, law students, and advocates will need to emerge and seriously challenge a legal and political landscape that has become an impediment to providing fair and just treatment for this country’s most vulnerable and disempowered people.”

I am a person of faith, and an American citizen. I know well it is our duty to live into the covenant Isaiah reminds us of: to bring God’s people out of hidden darkness and restore their place in the nation. We must lift our voices as people of faith and attend to the prisoners.

We must bring this neglect into the light and demand that people not be treated as prey any longer.

Call Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge to make your views known: 501-682-2007.

 

 

 

3 Comments Add yours

  1. “A generation of policy makers, legislators, lawyers, law students, and advocates will need to emerge and seriously challenge a legal and political landscape that has become an impediment to providing fair and just treatment for this country’s most vulnerable and disempowered people.” This is a powerful statement.

    I have watched this question of incarceration (both in jails and prisons which each are involved in different ways in this dilemma) from the perspective of a psychiatrist who worked part time in both settings. I’m aware that no politician has ever been elected if their opponent can brand them as “soft on crime”. Irrespective of the fact that violent crime is on the decline in the US, the emotional value of finding “criminals” to blame for the ills of the country has proven irresistible. The emotional need to have somebody to blame is an astonishing large obstacle that must be over come if we are going to raise a “generation of policy maker, legislators…. to emerge and seriously challenge” the current status quo. The status quo clearly victimizes the country’s most vulnerable and disempowered communities.

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  2. WARNING ******* BLACK MAN THINKING*********** says:

    As Christians our stance against prison reform shouldn’t start when drugs are circulated in the prison, but before the inmate is sentenced. Its statistically proven that the percentage of people with non violent crimes in prison exceed those who are actually a threat to society. Most inmates are serving their whole lives for a mistake in prison with no strategy or method of restoration. We should be challenging the legislation that has allowed prisons to become a billion dollar business on the backs of people who if had a second chance could probably help change the world. Love, kindness, and forgiveness no longer exist for all people on rich.
    Drugs in prison don’t compare to drugs killing people on the streets so I believe the battle should start sooner than them becoming a number with a cell.
    We should be challenging the systems that allows minorities to be incarcerated at a higher rate because the complexion of our skin, and financial ability obtained. As Christians our focus should be on the justice that keeps millions out of prison , and not in the position to do drugs behind walls. Honestly we should be focusing on the drug use out of prison then because people don’t become addicts in prison it starts on the streets. So the big question is how as Christians can we stop drug abuse in the streets which leads them to prison, and finding drugs to cope with the struggle of being treated like an animal.

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    1. I agree that drug addiction ought to be addressed prior to incarceration. Saying “battle” in this context is challenging for me as it draws on the “war on drugs” narrative.. which is much of the impetus for harsh and racist sentencing around drug offenses. I believe we need to address drug abuse as a health crisis not a crime crisis. I believe we need a radical abolition of our prison system and yet – until that happens – there are people both in and out of prison who need Christian attention at this very moment. I think we ought to pay attention to both.

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