Summary: Consider the biblical principle of restitution in the wake of rising prison population and what we as Christians can do

A Biblical Response to Crime – Restitution

BY Rev. Andrew Chan, PBC, Vancouver, BC

June 2001

Text: Ex.22:1-15

My purpose today is to help you to understand that the Biblical principle of restitution. Today, we have increased prison population, that’s a fact and also the fact is - people reoffend once they are out. Is there another way to make some headway into crime and crime prevention? Are current methods really adequate to deal with such a massive problem,? What should Christian people like you and I think when it comes to these issues that society faces? How can you and I make a difference? If we start with praying, and we should, how can we even pray intelligently?

In an article called “Redeeming Prisoners” that appeared in CT mag.(March 1, 1999 Vol. 43, No. 3, Page 27)

, Steve Rabey reported:

Crime rates in the United States have been steadily falling this decade, but the declines have not slowed the growth of the nation’s prison population. Due in part to a wave of get-tough laws, many of them requiring longer sentences, almost 1.8 million Americans are incarcerated, giving the land of the free the second-highest confinement rate in the world behind only Russia.

No doubt the problems we have here in Canada are similar, given the fact that more and more public funds are being used to maintain and build prisons. I believe this has to be a concern among us evangelical Christians as we attempt to live out what it means to be ministers of reconciliation in a world that wants retribution. It is much easier (but it seems costlier) to just lock em up and throw away the key and forget about those convicted criminals. As Rabey further noted:

America’s punishment-heavy approach to crime carries a big price tag. State and federal governments, faced with prison overcrowding problems, are spending billions of dollars on new prison-construction projects, or on contracts with a growing industry of private "corrections" firms.

And many observers say the criminal- justice system exacts an even HIGHER SOCIAL COSTS. Studies have found that as many as 75 PERCENT of those released from jails or prisons will be back behind bars within four years, and in many cases, these men, women, and juveniles have neither the desire nor the ability to become productive members of society.

"Our current system of retributive justice is focused on who did what, and how much we are going to hurt them for doing it," says Emmett Solomon, a Southern Baptist from Huntsville, Texas, who has been working in prisons since 1956.

What needs to be seen here is current practices has very little redeeming value, and lacks any sense of reforming and helping prisoners. The Bible surely does not encourage us to merely lock em up and throw away the key. God’s Word say in Heb.13:1-3 (NLT):

Continue to love each other with true Christian love. 2 Don’t forget to show hospitality to strangers, for some who have done this have entertained angels without realizing it! 3 DON’T FORGET ABOUT THOSE IN PRISON. Suffer with them as though you were there yourself. Share the sorrow of those being mistreated, as though you feel their pain in your own bodies.

Andreas Havinga (posted June 4, 01 on CT website) also noted:

Prison chaplains from 30 countries have expressed "alarm at the continuing growth in prison populations in

many European countries." …The chaplains also urged everyone involved in criminal justice systems in the region to "examine anew the use of custody as a punishment."

Havinga also reported that:

According to United Kingdom Home Office figures reported in May, Portugal has the highest imprisonment rate within the European Union, jailing 142 people for each 100,000 inhabitants, followed by England and Wales which imprison 125 inmates for every 100,000 inhabitants. The European Union average is 87 prisoners per 100,000. In other regions the rate of imprisonment is much higher—in Russia 729 per 100,000, and in the United States 682 per 100,000.

Once again, we are faced with the fact that current approaches to crime are failing miserably! So let’s get back to the Bible and hear what God’s wise words can do to remedy our situation.

Text: Exodus 22:1-15 (NKJV)

1“If a man steals an ox or a sheep, and slaughters it or sells it, he shall RESTORE five oxen for an ox and four sheep for a sheep. 2“If the thief is found breaking in, and he is struck so that he dies, there shall be no guilt for his bloodshed. 3“If the sun has risen on him, there shall be guilt for his bloodshed. He should make FULL RESTITUTION; if he has nothing, then he shall be sold for his theft. 4“If the theft is certainly found alive in his hand, whether it is an ox or donkey or sheep, he shall RESTORE DOUBLE.

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