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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(11).

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'(12) 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'(13).

Index to the topic

Law and Order
A Postscript on Capital Punishment

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