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Rethinking Incarceration

Advocating for Justice That Restores
Narrated by: Mirron Willis
Length: 7 hrs and 16 mins
Non-member price: $27.79
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Publisher's Summary

The United States has five percent of the world's population but 25 percent of the world's incarcerated. We have more people locked up in jails, prisons, and detention centers than any other country in the history of the world. There are more jails and prisons than degree-granting colleges and universities, and in many places, more people live behind bars than on college campuses. Mass incarceration has become a lucrative industry, and the criminal justice system is plagued with bias and unjust practices. And the church has unwittingly contributed to these problems.

In Rethinking Incarceration, Dominique Gilliard explores the history and foundation of mass incarceration, examining Christianity's role in its evolution and expansion. He assesses our nation's ethic of meritocratic justice in light of Scripture and exposes the theologies that embolden mass incarceration. Gilliard then tells how Christians can pursue justice that restores and reconciles, offering creative solutions and highlighting innovative interventions. God's justice is ultimately restorative, not just punitive. Discover how Christians can participate in the restoration and redemption of the incarceration system.

©2018 Dominique Gilliard (P)2018 Tantor

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  • Adam Shields
  • 26-03-2019

Theological reflections on Criminal Justice

Rethinking Incarceration is a book well worth reading. I think the main problem of it is that it is trying to do too much. There is 199 pages of main content and in that, Dominique Gilliard tries to have shortened version of New Jim Crow, trace the (mixed bag) line of Christian reform movements within prison, make a theological argument for restorative model over retributive model, and convince people that systematic racism is a part of the whole history of the criminal justice system. The amount of content that is squeezed into the short book does leave him open to critiques in a few area where one aspect or another could have been fleshed out a bit more.

I glanced around at negative reviews last night and many of them seem to focus on three areas. First, Gilliard takes aim at Penal Substitutionary Atonement (PSA) theory. I think he make a good point at why he is targeting PSA, but I think he also falls into the trap that many PSA proponents have of thinking of atonement theories as the actual work of Christ’s death and resurrection instead of metaphors and mental maps of what is going on with the atonement. If he had kept a tighter focus on PSA as one of many facets of the atonement, he could have pointed out the way that PSA lends itself toward justification of punishment, and God as judge metaphors, and how that influences how we think of criminal justice system theologically. I also think he would benefit from interacting with Fleming Rutledge’s book Crucifixion (I am currently reading this). She does not dismiss PSA as a model but believes that it is over emphasized and her corrective, without dismissal, would be a helpful model.

Other negative reviews complain about it citations. This is a minor complaint but I do think he would do better to cite more people. As helpful as I think Michelle Alexander, Douglas Blackmon, Bryan Stevenson and Christopher Marshall were to his project, over dependence on them I think limited his perspective. Others also think similar things and citing more people would help the book by rounding it out more.

Where I think Gillard shines in Rethinking Incarceration is how he illustrates that justice, not just punishment, is the focus. This was the third area of that was common in negative reviews. But mostly they showed that they do not understand was the purpose of restorative justice is. There are some that seem to believe that restorative justice is about removing pain or punishment from the process. But the point isn’t to make things easier for the criminal. It is to restore right relationship and community trust to the community as a whole. The Black Lives Matters movement has taken off in large part because there is no trust that justice is a real goal of the criminal justice system.

When I read reviews that take individual stats (while ignoring the mass of statistics that are showing similar concepts) and argue with them as a means of trying to dismiss racism as a whole, it really does show me how far we as a society have to go to understand the real harm of racism.

Criminal Justice is just one area, but it is one area where the focus on individualism instead of community really matters. Evangelicals that are individually focused and not communally focussed will continue to miss God’s mission and minimize the role of justice in the life of Christians.

Rethinking Incarnation is well worth reading. I think it could be a bit better, but it is excellent at showing why restoration should be the point of the criminal justice system, it is excellent at giving a broad overview of how racism impacts criminal justice, and how drugs, immigration, and schools feed into the prison pipeline. My complaint is more that I both wanted more and wanted more focus, not that what is here is bad. I want to read more books like this that have good theological reflections on sociological problems.

I also switched between listening and reading. The narrator was not bad. He has a great voice. But I think he was not the best choice for the content of Rethinking Incarceration. There is nothing technically wrong, this is well produced and a good voice. But the tone feels off.