Correcting Corrections

The racial disparity in the Wisconsin prison population is among the highest in the nation. For every 100,000 whites in the state, 400 are in jail and for every 100,000 blacks, 4,000 are in jail, so that when you visit a place like the Columbia County Correctional Facility it almost feels like you walk from a 90% white world into a 90% non-white world. This is just one indication that something needs correcting in our corrections system.

This week Janine and I went to spend a little time with a friend, Tony, who has been caught in the revolving door of Wisconsin corrections for years. The thing he needed prayer for more than anything else was depression. It's hard to not be depressed when you are living on the streets (though Tony is now staying with a friend), and it's hard not to live on the streets when so few will rent to someone with a criminal record unless they have lots of cash to put down, and it's hard to put down much cash when you can't even find minimum wage work.

Tony is stuck, and being stuck is depressing and being depressed increases the likelihood of drinking and then doing stupid things. To top it off, some Parole Officers have become jaded - probably not without cause. This makes it feel like Tony's PO is watching, waiting, even hoping to catch Tony in a mistake in order to send him back to jail (like being late for a parole meeting because of being at the doctor or because his bus was late). Sending Tony back to jail is no solution. Seeing his depression healed (which is related to so many other factors) is just one small step to bringing true restoration.

When I was in the Downtown East Side of Vancouver, BC a couple of months ago I watched drugs being traded openly on the streets while cops rode around on bikes just trying to keep everyone safe and out of the rest of Vancouver. There is even a government facility in the neighborhood to help you shoot up safely. The philosophy of the Vancouver city government and of most corrections system is simply that of containment. It is an emphasis on quarantine not vaccine.

Like the Geresene demoniac (Mark 5) the human solution to aberrant behavior is to chain. Jesus comes to heal and restore. It may well be that we will always need to provide places of quarantine. But those of us who carry around the Spirit and authority of Christ have the vaccine. It's time we stop stockpiling Christ’s love and power by remaining in our safe enclaves and move out into places where we can regularly administer the kind of love in action that will bring healing to those whom society would simply quarantine. While Janine and I love hanging out with healthy people, Jesus said those who were well had no need of a physician (Matt 9:12). Our short visit with Tony is way too rare an occurrence in our lives. Could it be that we might help bring a corrective to our corrections system just by who we choose to tangle our lives up with?

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