The question of how to deal with criminals has been a thorn in the side of Western Civilization, and even more so in America. Our innately sinful human nature is bound to cross the line and break the law, and sometimes the result of this will land citizens behind bars. For the worst of criminals, committing heinous crimes and continuing to act out in prison makes them eligible to be placed in what is affectionately known as solitary confinement – or rather the prison within the prison. To put it plainly, thousands of inmates spend 23 hours a day in a space no larger than a handicap sized bathroom, devoid of social interaction and far too much idle time to recognize the walls around them.
The truth about the penal system is that 95% of inmates will reenter society at some point, and these inmates end up being a far greater danger to their communities and themselves than when they entered prison, especially if they have not received any rehabilitative treatment. Almost half of all inmates will be rearrested within three years of leaving prison. What’s more alarming is that the rate increases to a 61 percent likelihood to return to prison for those who return to society immediately following time in solitary confinement. Inmates who spend time in solitary confinement are virtually doomed to return to prison because they simply do not know how to cope with the outside world or have the vocational skills to earn an honest living.
The National Reentry Resource Center reports that approximately 9 million individuals are released from jail each year. If just a third of these inmates were subject to solitary confinement, that’s three million people every year who are attempting and likely failing to rejoin our society due to serious mental illnesses and an inability to cope with the outside world. This dramatically increases the likelihood that they will return to prison and even worse, back to solitary confinement where they will not receive the mental health treatment necessary to function outside the walls of prison.
Showing compassion in this matter does not mean condoning the crimes these inmates committed, because they should serve a fair sentence for breaking the law. But at some point we must ask what we are gaining from locking someone up and throwing away the key.
Solitary confinement is often justified as being necessary for public safety. However, research data shows that solitary confinement does not help to rehabilitate prisoners but worsens their mental health. Schizophrenia, Bipolar depression, and severe ADHD are just a few of the mental disabilities these prisoners are dealing with. What we must keep in mind is that one day they will be back on our streets and in our neighborhoods, no better equipped to reform their ways than when they entered.
Christians must advocate for the humane treatment of prisoners because their treatment is a profound statement on where we stand as a society. The vital restrictions of the use of solitary confinement in no way advocate that these men and women are not criminals but consider this; does every crime warrant the social and mental torture which solitary confinement enforces? To be Jesus to the least of these, we must not turn a blind eye to those are more lost than we can possibly fathom.
As Americans we are better than this, and as Christians our compassion is a matter of obedience. Truth be told, this is what we deserve as sinners; a life isolated from the people and God we love, yet a supreme act of mercy changed all this. As recipients of this mercy, Christians must advocate for rehabilitation versus vengeance.