Editors Note: this reflection was originally published in the Voices from Prison and the Edge newsletter (issue no. 30), a...
“It is not by harshness or by severity, or by overbearing methods, that social evils are removed. It is by education rather than by formal commands, by persuasion rather than by threats.”
– St. Augustine (Letter 22, 5)
What St. Augustine Says
Mass Incarceration impacts all of us. Nearly half of all Americans have had a loved one incarcerated, yet two out of every three people who are released from prison will commit another crime. The current system of mass incarceration in our country is largely retributive rather than restorative, and disproportionately impacts the poor and minorities. This further perpetuates the systemic causes of crime including poverty, educational disparity, and racism. At the core of the discussion is how to create a more restorative system of crime prevention. Saint Augustine lived in a time when racial and economic inequality, crime, and incarceration were seemingly as prevalent as they are in our day today. Yet, he continually advocated for a system that restores rather than simply punishes.
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In the Words of Augustine
"When a traveler gets tired of walking along the dusty road, he puts up with fatigue because he hopes to arrive home. Rob him of any hope of arriving and immediately his strength for walking is broken."
Sermon 158, 8
"Essentially, the distinguishing mark of those who strive after Christian perfection is that they love the sinner and detest only sins. When they must avenge wrongdoing, they do so, not with the cruelty of hatred, but with justice administered with moderation, lest forgiveness without satisfaction do more harm to the sinner than punishment."
Against Adamants 17
“We call those Christian rulers happy who govern with justice, never forgetting that they are only human. They think of sovereignty as a ministry of God, and they fear and worship God. They are slow to punish and quick to forgive. They temper with mercy and generosity the unavoidable harshness of their commands."
City of God, 5, 24
"Love and do what you will. If you keep silence, do it out of love. If you cry out, do it out of love. If you refrain from punishing, do it out of love."
Sermon on 1 John 7, 8
"We do not wish to have the sufferings of the servants of God avenged by the infliction of precisely similar injuries in the way of retaliation. Not, of course, that we object to the removal from these wicked men of the liberty to perpetrate further crimes; but our desire is rather that justice be satisfied without the taking of their lives or the maiming of their bodies in any part, and that, by such coercive measures as may be in accordance with the laws, they be turned from their insane frenzy to the quietness of men in their sound judgment, or compelled to give up mischievous violence and betake themselves to some useful labour."
Sermon 133, 1
"who does not see that when a restraint is put upon the boldness of savage violence, and the remedies fitted to produce repentance are not withdrawn, this discipline should be called a benefit rather than vindictive punishment?"
Sermon 133, 1
An Augustian Response
A more restorative response to crime
Learn more about the issue of Mass Incarceration
If you or someone you love has faced incarceration or have been a victim of crime,
From becoming a pen pal to visiting the imprisoned there are lots of ways to get involved.
Mass Incarceration Impacts All of Us
An Unfair System
It is Ineffective
Relation to Other Societal Issues
Hear the Voices of the Imprisoned
A selection of letters from the imprisoned and those who minister with them
This poem was written by someone who has faced incarceration. It was originally published in the Voices from Prison and...
Editors Note: the following reflection was written by someone who faced incarceration and addiction. It was originally published in the...