Criminology is usually about “bad news”—in contrast with theology. The biblical word “gospel” means “good news” in New Testament Greek. Christians believe that the “good news” is that God came to earth in the form of a man, Jesus. God’s ultimate revelation in the form of a human was to show the nature and character of God. To the question whether he was the promised Messiah, Jesus answered “the blind receive their sight, the lame walk… the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them” (Matt. 11:1-5).
My last two blog posts were about “bad behavior, crimes, and other sins” and “school shootings and school violence.” Not exactly “good news.” The past year has been full of bad news, from hurricanes and fires, to multiple deaths and injuries from mass shootings.
In the days after Christmas as we reflect on the reunions of family and friends enjoying the holidays together—is it possible to end the year of 2017 with a “positive spin”? Yes, even criminology can offer some good news.
0 Crime trends for both violent and property crimes have been trending downward for the past several years, according to both the FBI Uniform Crime Reports and the National Crime Victim Survey.
0 The overall crime rate and the rate of violent crime are at their second-lowest levels since 1990.
0 Despite the downward trends in crimes reported by victims and the number of reported crimes to police and all law enforcement as reported to the FBI— the U.S. still has the largest prison and jail population in the free world.
0 Those locked up in America include more than 2.3 million people in 1,719 state prisons, 102 federal prisons, 901 juvenile correctional facilities, 3,163 local jails, and 76 Indian Country jails as well as in military prisons, immigration detention facilities, civil commitment centers, and prisons in the U.S. territories.
Do churches, Christians, and the community of faith have anything to contribute to the over-population of jails and prisons in America? Yes, they do and they are. Thousands of church members are responding to Jesus’s command to visit those in prison (Matthew 25:36). Prison Fellowship is the best-known example.
0 Prison Fellowship seeks to restore those affected by crime and incarceration by introducing prisoners, victims, and their families to a new hope available through Jesus Christ. They offer training in churches, in communities, and in prisons to support the restoration of those affected by incarceration.
0 They equip wardens, prison staff, and volunteers to create more rehabilitative prisons that prepare prisoners to return to their communities as good neighbors. They advocate for a criminal justice system that upholds restorative values, so communities are safer, victims are respected, and offenders are transformed. They work with churches and local service providers to support families with loved ones behind bars and people affected by crime.
0 26,000+ prisoners participate monthly in classes
0 11,300+ volunteers work in Prison Fellowship programs
0 300,000+ children of parents in prison benefit from Prison Fellowship programs
Thousands of church members who volunteer with Prison Fellowship share the same experience that I had when I first began working with offenders. They are persons who have made mistakes. They have violated the law and deserve to be punished. They have hurt people, and must be held accountable. But they deserve justice with human dignity. Meeting offenders personally dissolves our stereotypes of “criminals.” They are also persons, most of whom feel guilt for hurting victims, their families, their children. Most want to change and become responsible citizens.
The thousands of criminal justice professionals who work for public safety and interact daily with criminal offenders take their jobs seriously. They work with victims and with offenders, and they treat both with dignity and respect. When the justice system functions as intended, we do not hear or read about the daily routines of police, court, and corrections personnel. Those stories are not “newsworthy.”
Parole officer Tiffany Whittier offers an example of human dignity in her supervision of a convicted felon. Her Christ-like approach was able to overcome the racism of the parolee. So much so, that he had the swastika tattoo removed from his chest. Tiffany is black, Michael Kent, the parolee, white. His words describe the change. He says of Tiffany, “She is much more than my parole officer. I would think of her as family.” The love and spirit of Christ changes people, and the spirit of Christ changes the world.