Should Christians, especially in Lent, a period of repentance and forgiveness, support the abolition of police and prisons?
In making my vision board last year I looked for Bible verses that resonated with me, my goals, my passions. A few made it on there, but one stood out;
As Christians, we are told that it is our duty to create God’s realm on Earth, to live a Christ shaped life. As a church community, and as Christians generally, we fight for justice for the oppressed, the existence of my role and our steadfast, longstanding support for LGBTQ+ communities is testament to that.
We give food to the hungry, we have breakfast on Sunday morning, FEAST on Monday evening, hospitality is at the heart of who we are. But I do wonder how many Christians would openly call themselves Prison Abolitionists.
It has been a journey for me to understand what is meant by prison abolition or the abolition of the carceral state, a journey that I am still on. At first prison abolition sounds like advocating for everyone incarcerated to be released here and now, without a second thought, when the reality is far more nuanced.
Calls for the abolition of prisons and policing historically came from Black women based in the USA in the 1970’s onwards and enjoyed little support from Christian groups, however the movement in Britain has roots in Christian groups. Christian Action funded and provided office space for Radical Alternatives to Prison (RAP) who produced The Abolitionist publication and ran campaigns against the expansion of Holloway Prison.
What is it that those calling for the abolition of prisons and policing actually vision as an alternative? Would it be safe? What would a world without prisons and policing look like? Well in the words of For Everyone Collective who employ formerly incarcerated people for a living, fair wage, ‘Abolition is Creative’.
Abolition of the oppressive structures in the criminal justice system as it is now, requires us to look at the root causes of crime, consider the impact of it on victims and survivors and be creative. However, to me, and many Christians involved in abolitionist groups, these solutions are not only within sight, but also fully in line with what we are taught in scriptures. But why are the existing structures oppressive?
Considering the history and current reality of prisons and policing in Britain, the former which comes from Britain’s colonial past in Ireland, used as a mechanism of state control against independence, and the latter disproportionately impacting people of colour, working class people and still those who dissent from the status quo, it seems quite clear.
Beyond this, the system in itself is broken, shown by the Home Office’s statistics that more than 92% of crime in England and Wales remain ‘unsolved by the police’ and 1 in 4 people reoffend within a year of release from prison. All in all, there is nothing to show that we are any ‘safer’ in the current system.
Key factors that are known to increase crime statistics are poverty, marginalisation in society, childhood including being in care and or excluded from school. In that sense, some of the solutions are at the heart of the work of the church already, be it challenging poverty and destitution or providing community and sanctuary, especially to those who are structurally excluded.
Moreover, justice, repentance and forgiveness are fundamental beliefs for us as Christians, especially during the Lenten period. As we are forgiven for our sins, for thoughts, words and deeds that have separated us from God, should we not aim to do the same to others?
Rather than further marginalising people, incarcerating them to often do labour paid less than £2 an hour, trapped in recurring cycles of violence, we could facilitate restorative justice and truth and reconciliation approaches.
Allowing the victims and survivors of crime to speak openly about their feelings and the impact of the events has had on them, learning to understand the perpetrators and seeing change within them. Afterall more than 65% of those incarcerated are not in prison for violent crimes, and these crimes can be prevented without casting our siblings aside. All of which feels deeply Christian to me, as it is within our Confession prayer, and the book of Micah, to ‘do justly, love mercy and walk humbly with you are God’.
You can find out more about this work, and especially from a Christian perspective using the links below:
What would a world look like without prisons? https://youtu.be/6mMwrS30XT8