Thursday, July 09, 2015

Modern prisons & the Bible

The Bible doesn't really have prisons, except for those awaiting trial.

Prisons are pretty good at locking up convicted criminals for a while and therefore keeping them from directly inflicting physical harm on those outside prison. But they punish the whole of society because they are are eye-wateringly expensive and rubbish at re-habilitation. It turns out to be a bad idea to lock criminals up with other criminals! They are not a good influence on one another. The education, work and reform offered in prison are often minimal. Drug use and violence are sometimes rife. It is easy for someone incarcerated to go from bad to wrose as he serves an apprenticeship with a gang of cons.

One of the Bible's major alternatives to this is a carefully regulated temporary period of endentured servitude for those who are unable to pay their criminal fines. This has several advantages. The victim is compensated for his crime rather than having to pay for the criminal to be locked up. The criminal does something useful and may well have the opportunity to learn a trade or gain useful skills. There is dignity in this work. He pays his debt. And the scale is personal rather than institutional. In a small agricultural community made up of relatively large households, it is likely that everyone will know how everyone else treats their servants. There is less need for a prison inspectorate and the brutality that can sometimes exist amongst those who want to be prison guards in a closed-off world is more difficult. 

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