Our current prison system does not work and worse, it is a threat to our society. It has been that way for as long as we have been alive. Criminals go to prison, join gangs and come out worse than before. It’s like a training camp for bad behavior and our ex-convicts leave the system worse criminals than before. What is the biggest problem and what can we do to stop this?
The biggest problem with our prison is that criminals do not get to associate with good examples, but continue to associate with other criminals. Perhaps a simple proverb needs to be considered. Bad company corrupts good morals (1 Corinthians 15:33). This wisdom is found throughout the Bible. Do not be friends with an angry man. Do not go with a furious man. Why? You will learn his ways and set a trap your soul (Proverbs 22:24-25). A companion of fools will suffer harm (Proverbs 13:20). Do not even associate with immoral people and swindlers (1 Corinthians 5:11). Do not walk in the advice of the wicked (Psalm 1:1-4).
Because of this ongoing association with other criminals, our prisons make criminals even worse and do not reform them. Proverbs 16:29 makes this same conclusion. Criminals associate with each other, entice each other and lead each other in a way that is not good. 2 Corinthians 6:14-15 teaches us not to partner with lawless people, but our prisons force those who might have a hope of a change of heart to associate with those who will either never change their ways or on their road to change will continue to have a harmful influence for a very long time.
It’s like placing a group of fools together and expecting them to come out of the experience as wise men, or like placing people in the most dangerous environment imaginable and expecting them to come out without any post traumatic stress. Our current system is absolute foolishness. It is going nowhere towards helping our criminals come out the other end as healthy, law-abiding citizens.
What can we do? I know that our separation of church and state will cause us problems. We may find it difficult to follow a Brazilian model where criminals are given mandatory religion classes. But it does work. The recidivism rate in that program is very low. However, even if that may be politically impossible, we have other options that follow along the same lines. Criminals must not, may I repeat, must not be allowed to associate with other criminals. How in the world we accomplish that, would involve the good citizens of our communities playing a greater role in retraining criminals and keeping them from their former bad associates. It will be a complete change, but it must be done somehow. There is no other way.
In ancient Israel, a thief was able to pay back by working as a slave until the debt was worked out. We sometimes call this indentured servitude. Not all slavery is the bad form of kidnapping-slavery that our ancestors engaged in. We still have forms of slavery today, military conscription, debt repayment and road gangs. Those who are not a danger to society can work to rebuild our highways and bridges perhaps to pay off their debt. Also, in ancient Israel, there was no extreme punishment of separating a criminal from the family. Perhaps this also releases some of the tension that our current segregated system creates.
The logistics of creating a prison system where criminals are not allowed to associate with other criminals and not given opportunity to form gangs must be a high priority if we are to solve our problems. Our current system has failed miserably and continues to be a training ground for those who will make our society even more unsafe each time they are recycled. We must make drastic changes if we are to have a system that works better than the current one.