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.