Christians and Justice
This week is Prisons Week, and regular columnist John Myhill shares his thoughts on the Christian approach to justice issues.
Churches are taking up the weight of responsibility left when government opts out of its welfare responsibilities. I have known the poor oppressed in my work for Social Services and as a magistrate, as a prison visitor and prison chaplain. I have seen the law used to the detriment of employment in my work as a union rep and health and safety representative. Christians need to make their beliefs clear on these issues.
Matthew 5-39 & Luke 6-29 : Turning the other cheek? In my opinion, this government seems determined to cut the police service just as it has cut all other essential community services. A future publicly accountable police force will only be possible if it works more closely with the communities it serves. We should not be cutting community constables as the present commissioner suggests but making all police primarily community based.
The answer lies in more localism, not larger regional forces, detached from the people and used as a means of oppressing the working class. 85% of victims were satisfied with their experience of Restorative Justice, and less of those criminals reoffended.
Matthew 25 (35-46) : The sheep and the goats. By working more closely with ex drug addicts, recovered psychiatric patients and reformed criminals, the police can show that they care for those whom the free market has rejected. The prison population is over 84,000 – nearly twice what it was 20years ago.
Luke 10 (29-37) The Good Samaritan. Housing, employment and good support services are the most effective ways to reduce crime. Police need to be good mediators and negotiators (skills of Christian Peacemaking) following a Restorative Justice model. 15% of newly sentenced prisoners reported being homeless before custody. Two thirds of prisoners were unemployed for the month before prison (13% had never had a job). 20% of prisoners need help with reading.
Mark 14 (55-64) : The trial of Jesus. In the 1980’s I was in Yorkshire, and saw the police misused to suppress the Miners’ strike, and as a magistrate for ten years I saw poor and mentally ill people sent to prison who should have been given hospital help. 36% of prisoners are estimated to have a physical or mental disability (nearly twice the average in the general population).
Matthew 18:3 : Unless you become as little children. When I was on the family bench I have seen children taken into care, who would have been left with their parents if they had had more money. Looked after children make up 33% of boys and 61% of girls in custody, although less than 1% of children are taken into care.
John 13 (1-17) : Jesus washes the feet of his disciples. Despite all my negative experience of law enforcement, I have a high regard for the working police officers, who do their best to apply the law fairly and protect those who are least able to protect themselves. I believe they can serve the community rather than the ruling class. If we want a good police force, we will need to ensure that they are given every opportunity to exercise their skills. We will have to support them if they are to support us on their reduced budgets.
Listening, liaison and leadership by example are essential. 80% of people support better mental health care; 63% believe those who commit lower level crime should not be sent to prison.
(All national statistics thanks to the Prison Reform Trust.)