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Restorative Justice: A Win-Win-Win

A few weeks ago, a law went into effect in Ohio that will save the Buckeye state millions of dollars and also, as Governor Kasich put it, “literally will save thousands of lives.”

What is this amazing piece of legislation? It’s the state’s Criminal Justice Reform Act, and it only became law because of the support and work of Christians like you.

It’s not an exaggeration to say that the law radically changes Ohio’s approach to prisons and prisoners. Prior to passage of the law, Ohio’s approach to crime was “Lock 'em up!” Even for first time, non-violent crimes, virtually every offender was shipped to a prison, often hundreds of miles from their home and family.

As Justice Fellowship and I have been insisting for three decades, that one-size-fits-all approach may be politically popular, but it is destructive of the lives of prisoners and costs more than we can afford.

Obviously we need prisons for dangerous offenders. However, many lawbreakers can be safely punished in the community under mandatory supervision for a lot less money. Supervising low-risk offenders in the community eliminates a terrible impact of mass incarceration — the destruction of ties between the offender and the community to which he will eventually return.

This new law reserves expensive prison beds for truly dangerous criminals, while keeping a tight rein on low-risk offenders in the community. That makes for safer communities and saves taxpayer money.

In supporting and working for this bill, Governor Kasich has done a great public service. He asked the legislators to place a higher value on offenders' “ability to reclaim their lives” than on political considerations. It is those political calculations — the "lock ‘em up" mentality — that have stymied badly needed reform for 25 years. However, this time the legislators rose to the occasion and passed this important bill.

Mobilizing the church behind positive solutions like this is why we established Justice Fellowship. Our current criminal justice system is failing. However, there is an alternative, and it is literally as old as the Bible itself. It’s called restorative justice, a biblical conception of justice that seeks to repair the damage that crime brings to victims and the community, and that the offender brings upon himself as well.

Justice Fellowship offers positive solutions to our broken justice system; solutions based on principles of restorative justice. Whether it’s urging Congress to address the scandal of prison rape or pressing Ohio to rethink prisons and prisoners, the mission is the same: bringing Christian truth to bear in the larger society.

As Governor Kasich rightly noted, ignoring the human need and financial waste of our criminal justice system may be politically expedient, but it is wrong. Good for him!

Justice Fellowship rallies Christians to speak out on behalf of the voiceless — that is, offenders. By speaking up, the church can give our leaders permission — as in this case — to do the right thing. Please, visit BreakPoint.org to learn more about Justice Fellowship.

Making our communities safer, helping offenders change their lives, and saving taxpayers money in the process: It’s a win-win-win. It’s also a reminder of what can happen when we take Christian principles into the public square.

Chuck Colson's daily BreakPoint commentary airs each weekday on more than one thousand outlets with an estimated listening audience of one million people. BreakPoint provides a Christian perspective on today's news and trends via radio, interactive media and print.

Publication date: November 10, 2011

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