Punishment v. Rehabilitation


“… forgiveness and restoration focuses on a humanitarian approach, recognizing the wrong doing while working toward restoration. You cannot forgive what you do not recognize as egregious or offensive.”

Courtesy of Kenneth Carpina

A Delicate Balance.

Generally speaking, when it comes to solutions to crime, it appears that the public favors punishment instead of rehabilitation. It seems, however, that there is a delicate balance between punishment and rehabilitation. Leaning too far one way or the other can cause systems to become too focused on one aspect of humanity. Yet, humans remain both flawed and compassionate. There is an apparent dichotomy in both the human system and the system that sets out to restore justice among humans.

The need for prison reform is generally agreed upon across political spectrums (Fagan and Ax, 2011). But thoughts on exactly what that reform looks like and how it is carried out differs across ideologies. We see this with the “defund the police” movement and the concerns in how that is defined and operationalized. Felthous (2014) notes that prisons, in many ways, have become the new asylums for the mentally ill. Thus, there remains a need to determine what is actual criminal behavior and what is mental illness.

Fagan and Ax go on to note that despite problems with prison systems in California, state government often rejects proposals for community-based solutions. So it appears that too often, broken people either become a judicial statistic, or a project for the community to fix. This robs the individual of his or her autonomy and does nothing to promote self-efficacy or individuality.

Forgiveness and Restoration.

Conversely, forgiveness and restoration focuses on a humanitarian approach, recognizing the wrong doing while working toward restoration. You cannot forgive what you do not recognize as egregious or offensive. A broken and flawed human being is prone to not only mistakes and misbehavior, but malevolence as well. Conceptually, there is no need for restoration if there can be no punishment.

We see an example of this in Christ meeting a woman at a well. Christ meets this woman where they shouldn’t be meeting, in a time when they shouldn’t be meeting. Christ essentially counsels the woman into admitting her apparently obvious flaw. When she says, “I have no husband,” Christ does not need to scold her. She is simply lead to the conclusion that she is broken, and Christ indicates that there is a better way (John 4:4–42, NIV). Christ does not ignore her sin in light of his offer at restoration, however. In fact, He tells her, “Go, and sin no more.”

Macro and Micro.

Essentially, this helps to illustrate the idea that it is the Christian’s duty to meet people where they are, rather than stand on the shores of a turbulent world and say, “Just swim to me, it’s dry and safe over here.” This does not suggest you have to ignore their wrong doing, however.

This relationship between justice and restoration exists on a macro level within the criminal justice system, but also on a micro level among your friends, family, and peers. People are generally looking for restoration, and a place to feel like they matter. You can be that place by simply showing up for those that need you. You don’t always have to have the answer or solutions to their problem. Often times, your presence will be enough.

It may very well be that justice and restoration starts in the more intimate micro moments, rather than the systemic macro changes.