Crime and Punishment
“Because the punishment decreed for an evil act is not promptly carried out, therefore people who plan to do evil are strengthened in their intentions” (Ecclesiastes 8:11, Complete Jewish Bible).
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Crime occurs in every country of the world, and each country may deal with it differently with varying degrees of success. Current data suggests that the most popular approach is increased imprisonment for offenders, especially amongst industrialized nations. Estimates by Statista, a web-based data agency, estimates that nine million people today are in prisons worldwide. Half of these nine million are held in three countries — the United States, Russia, and China. The U.S., with an incarceration rate of 655 per 100,000 population is the highest in the industrialized world; Russia imprisons 581 per 100,000, and China is somewhere between the two, although data is unreliable.
Beginning in the 1960s, massive capital was invested in the U.S. to expand jails and prisons, implement mandatory sentences, and to lock up drug dealers, whose work had been responsible for significant increases in felonious crime. Federal prosecutors
have been instructed to pursue the strongest possible charges against criminal suspects. According to the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI), nearly 500,000 prisoners in the U.S. are mentally ill, many of them severely so. However, when other
mental illnesses, such as anti-social personality disorder, borderline personality disorder, and depression, are included, NAMI puts the number of inmates suffering from both mental illness and substance abuse at well over 50 percent.
The Appearance of Success
According to Pew Research published in January 2019, violent crime in the U.S. has fallen sharply over the past quarter-century. In its annual report, the FBI said that serious crimes reported to police in approximately 18,000 jurisdictions fell 49% between 1993 and 2017. The annual survey of more than 90,000 households conducted by the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), which asks Americans whether they were victims of crime, regardless of whether they reported those crimes to the police, shows the rate fell 74% during that span. Other FBI and BJS data show a similar decline in property crime, by 50% and 69%
respectively. (For both studies, 2017 is the most recent full year of data.) Despite this decline, Pew Research reports that opinion surveys regularly find that Americans believe crime is up nationally. In 18 of 22 Gallup surveys since 1993 that have asked about national crime, at least 6 of 10 participants said there was more crime compared with the year before. Pew Research’s own
surveys found that 57 percent of registered voters said crime in the U.S. had gotten worse, despite the contrary evidence from FBI and BJS data.
The Decline of Crime Rates
In Why Crime Rates Are Falling Throughout the Western World, author Michael Tonry of the University of Minnesota Law School showed that, since the1990s, crime rates in most Western countries have fallen precipitously. Rates for nonlethal violence has fallen sharply in English-speaking countries and parts of continental Europe. In other parts of Europe, nonlethal violence has been stable or increasing, but this data may be skewed by cultural thresholds of tolerance for violence.
The Vera Institute of Justice, in its publication The Prison Paradox, summarizes research about the relationship between incarceration rates and crime rates. It found that since 2000, the increased use of jails and prisons accounted for nearly zero percent of the overall reduction in crime. Instead, between 75 and 100 percent of the drop in crime rates since the 1990s is
explained by other factors, including the aging population. Any crime reduction benefits from increased incarceration apply only to property crimes. The report suggests ways in which “policymakers can reduce crime without continuing to increase the social, cultural, and political costs of mass incarceration by
investing in more effective and efficient crime reduction strategies … And begin to address the underlying causes of crime.”
New York University sociologist Patrick Sharkey in his 2018 book, Uneasy Peace: The Great Crime Decline, the Renewal of City Life and the New War on Violence, argues that rather than incarcerating criminals, changes in violent crime rates are due to:
- Gentrification of abandoned or poverty-stricken urban
- Increase in private security and home security systems
- Increased technology preventing theft of motor vehicles
- More effective law enforcement focus on problem areas and closing drug markets.
Jehovah to Eradicate True Causes of Crime
Biblical references to imprisonment include Joseph and his brothers (Genesis 39:20, 40:3-4,7, 42:16-19) and Samson by the Philistines (Judges 16:21). In the Torah, there were limited cases of detaining transgressors until execution of judgment (Leviticus 24:12, Numbers 15:34). Later in Israel’s history, imprisonment occurred as an administrative measure (1 Kings 22:27,
2 Chronicles 16:10, Jeremiah 37:15-16, 38:4-14). Imprisonment is mentioned as one means entrusted to the court for the purpose of compelling compliance with its instructions (Ezra 7:25-26).
Long-term incarceration as the preferred method of legal punishment is a relatively modern idea, stemming only from the late 18th century. Prisons were built throughout Western Europe and America with the intention not only of incarcerating but also improving prisoners through a mixture of work, discipline and personal reflection. But what began as a humanitarian gesture to give convicted criminals an opportunity for improvement, has since become one of the most violent and inhumane institutions in modern society. As suggested by the reported data, there has been almost no success in reducing one’s tendencies for criminal activity by incarcerating them. While retribution is a perfectly reasonable justification for
punishment, the only gain to a retributive sentence appears to be emotional satisfaction. There is nothing about prison that makes one mentally healthy.
Paul tells of a time when evildoers will be raised along with the righteous: “There shall certainly be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked” (Acts 24:15 NAS). Scriptures indicate that the tendency to do evil must be changed by both restraint and learning righteousness: “The ways of a man are before
the eyes of the LORD and He watches all his paths. His own iniquities will capture the wicked, and he will be held with the cords of his sin” (Proverbs 5:21,22 NASB). This suggests that there will be accountability in the Millennium for conscious violations of righteousness done in this life and the character inadequacies that lead to such actions. Similarly, in the Millennial age, those who receive a “resurrection of judgment” (John 5:29 NASB) who have stood for and acted according to conscience in this life, will be rewarded for their noble
character (Matthew 10:42).
“The arms of the wicked will be broken” (Psalms 37:17). Jehovah will eradicate evil and sin in His own time. Although justice today often puts the upright at a disadvantage, it will not be so when Christ establishes his righteous rule (Isaiah 32:1). Jehovah is not a God that is happy with wickedness (Psalms 5:4). Isaiah indicates a time when evil will no longer permeate the world (Isaiah 11:9). However, he allowed wickedness to endure for a practical lesson. Man must experience and see the natural consequences of sin so that he can recognize that “the wages of sin are death” (Romans 6:23). However, God has planned for man a grand time when pain, suffering, and death shall cease. The Psalmist says that God will break the arm of the wicked, but a broken arm can be healed! He will right all wrongs through moral lessons to the wicked and recovery to the injured. He will protect the individual and apply righteous principles to all. He
will vindicate the righteous with honor, fairness, and virtue. He will restore balance to the world through equity. Ultimately, when God’s purpose in the temporary permission of evil is complete, everyone will appreciate what He has done.
“The merciful precepts of Christ will, at last, suffuse the Code and it will glow with their radiance. Crime will be considered an illness with its own doctors to replace your judges and its hospitals to replace your prisons. Liberty shall be equated with health. Ointments and oil shall be applied to limbs that were
once shackled and branded. Infirmities that once were scourged with anger shall now be bathed with love. The cross in place of the gallows: sublime and yet so simple.” (Victor Hugo, The Last Day of a Condemned Man). Let us look forward to the time when all mankind — including those victimized by crime and those committing those crimes — will be restored as planned since the world began (Acts 3:19-21).