I’ve griped about the high incarceration rate in the U.S., and now I have company:
The United States has crossed, for the first time, a dismal threshold: One out of every 100 American adults is in prison, according to the Pew Center on the States. Five states have reached the point where they are spending as much or more on corrections than they do on higher education systems. To place it all in perspective, consider that America has approximately 5% of the world population but about 25% of the world’s prison population.
The fact that violent crime, according to the Justice Department, has dropped over the same three decades of surging prison-population growth poses a complex tangle: Is less crime the product of get-tough enforcement and sentencing, or are we just incarcerating more low-level offenders who don’t need to be in prison? Probably some of both. But whatever the case, the situation is enough to chew on the conscience of any follower of a religion that emphasizes compassion and redemption. Multitudes of Americans are languishing in prison — and it’s all suggestive of something deeper afflicting the soul of the nation.
The article, unfortunately, goes on to feature moralistic hand-wringing on what a problem this is.
One thing I learned from liberals is that moralistic hand-wringing isn’t enough. It’s interesting to note the following today in Barna:
In general, evangelical voters are perceived with a mix of skepticism and respect. Americans are not always sure what to make of evangelicals, but they believe the voting bloc has significant influence. Barna examined eight perceptions of evangelical voters. Four of the statements represented the most widely-held views…(one of them is) that they (Evangelicals) will be spend too much time complaining and not enough time solving problems (59%);
So, Evangelicals, if you want to be perceived as superior to the liberals, stop complaining and start solving!
Our incarceration rate, IMHO, is the result of two major factors (outside of the vagaries of the criminal justice system, which are many.)
The first is that too many people in this country have life views and styles that are bascially dysfunctional and undisciplined without the social checks of either community or state to counteract them. That’s a broad statement that takes into consideration the basic nature of the country, the lack of values and discipline that our state schools can or will inculate in our children, the breakdown of the family and the lack of encouragement to put it back together, “community leaders” who encourage unproductive behaviour to perpetuate their community’s need for them, and of course this. In a country where freedom is upheld by self-discipline and a sense of responsibility rather than order being solely imposed from above, it’s important for non-governmental institutions to take their part. For reasons both related to the state (and some not,) they don’t.
The second should be self-evident but isn’t: we have too many laws on the books. The more laws on the books, the more people are likely to violate them. It’s that simple. Passing a new law for every problem that arises is a reflex response we need to curb. It’s why, for example, Congress has been the opposite of progress for along time.
Evangelicals should think about the latter more carefully than they do. Face it: if we thought laws and rules were the answer, we should try the following way:
This day have those who disbelieve despaired of harming your religion. So fear them not, but fear ME. This day have I perfected your religion for you and completed MY favour upon you and have chosen for you Islam as religion. (Qur’an, 5:3)