Law and Order continued....
What should be the nature of punishment? There are varied
views on the subject. Some would advocate a strict prison regime where
detention centres should be furnished with the minimum of creature comforts and
advantages. Such circumstances they suggest, would be a constant reminder of
the prisoner's offence; how he injured the other party, and how society views
his behaviour. Years ago prison inmates were very severely treated, almost as
non-persons known by a number rather than by a name. They were disenfranchised
from civil rights such as voting in elections.
For some prisoners such stark conditions would have been a
deterrent to re-offending. They would have learned their lessons, behaved
correctly and been glad to get back on the strait and narrow. But not for all;
some of the guilty ones loudly protest their innocence. They tell how the
Police set them up; the witnesses did not tell the truth; the judge was biased
and the jury didn't understand the case, and as their sentence proceeds, their
anger builds up against 'the system'. Contact with like minds may corrupt them
further. They learn new tricks of the trade and prison becomes a school for
crime. They become prime re-offenders.
The alternative approach to the nature of punishment is that
imprisonment itself is the relevant part as it involves the separation from
family, friends, relatives and society in general. Freedom has been forfeited
and they serve under a strict regime. Accepting these facts then, it is
advocated that treatment should as humane as possible and the taking away of
human rights and personal dignity should be reduced to a minimum. The
accommodation should be adequately furnished with access to the usual
facilities such as TV and radio etc.
In general all these things are being granted. Physical
exercise and visits are allowed and there is opportunity for the inmates to
improve their education, study for academic degrees or improve their skills in
readiness for work when they are discharged. Sentence is reduced for good
behaviour and parole is allowed when appropriate.
Rehabilitation does reflect something of the Divine law. For
instance in Christ, the sinner's penalty has been paid. Forgiveness is given to
the truly repentant and there is a rehabilitation into the family of God which
is the Church.
Israel's laws stipulated that punishment must not be
excessive, perhaps shall we say by a spiteful officer of the law. In such cases
it says 'your brother shall become vile to you' or 'shall become
degraded'. This was a plea for dignity and preparation for rehabilitation to
normal life. The same principle is found in the New Testament in the case of a
Church member who was disciplined for some offence. 'You might rather forgive
the offender lest he be swallowed up with overmuch sorrow'.
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