Among the many dark clouds on California’s horizon is the particularly ominous U.S. Supreme Court dictate that the Golden State must soon release 46,000 felons from its prison system into the general populace, citing the condition of healthcare within the prison system as its reason for doing so. Setting aside for the time being the rather dubious Constitutional concerns driving this decision by the Court, it is imperative that we focus on the detrimental effects of a soft-hearted justice system upon society, for we are experiencing its end-game with frightening ferocity.
There has been only one perfect blueprint for human society ever delivered to humanity, and that blueprint may be found in the Law of Moses (Genesis – Deuteronomy), where it must be noted that Jehovah did not institute a prison system for His people Israel. If the crime committed was a serious one, the penalty was death (see Leviticus 20 for examples); all minor criminal offenses resulted in swift, stern physical punishment or financial fining, followed by release (Exodus 22; Deuteronomy 25:2,3); and chronic offending was deemed a serious offense that resulted in capital punishment (Deuteronomy 21:20 ). In this way the Israelite society was largely bereft of the criminal element, for all serious criminals were executed, leaving every Israelite to grow up knowing that he or she had but one chance to dwell decently among the living, and that upon committing serious criminal offense they forfeited that chance. There was no rehabilitation, there was no study of the psyche or background of the criminal, and there was no forgiveness.
This system may seem a bit stern to us today, for we deem ourselves enlightened beyond the wisdom of the Scriptures, but we disregard Holy Writ only at our great peril, whether individually or corporately. It was indeed a stern system, for every Biblical purpose of human government is stern by design, as compassionate government is at its core an illegitimate idea (a discussion that must wait until another time). From the standpoint of human government, then, there is only one legitimate way to deal with the sinful human nature, and that is to deal sternly with it, and to do so without delay.
When the sentence for a crime is not quickly carried out, the hearts of the people are filled with schemes to do wrong (Ecclesiastes 8:11), and we are also told that it is necessary to purge the evil from among you. The rest of the people will hear of this and be afraid, and never again will such an evil thing be done among you (Deuteronomy 19:19,20). Both the sinful nature and the criminal element must have a deathly fear of the consequences of breaking the law, for it is the only way for decent society to exist. It is not without reason that law and order walk hand-in-hand.
As for the idea of compassion, although it is not the legitimate realm of government, it is most certainly the realm of the individual (Matthew 5:7), and must be shown by us wherever possible. Simply because we are seeing that we will lose our society if we do not soon restructure it in line with Biblical principles does not mean that we leave the criminal to face the sternness of justice alone. He or she should be shown what kindness they can (Proverbs 31:6), and we must certainly take note of the compassion of Jesus upon the Cross as He dealt with the repentant criminal upon one of the crosses next to Him (Luke 23:39-43). Although this justly-condemned criminal put his faith in his Messiah, Jesus did not free the man from the sentence of death, but He did offer him forgiveness and eternal life. So, too, must we see to it that all of the condemned have a chance to repent and receive Christ, and this means that we must love the unlovely enough to visit them in their place of incarceration, whether we agree with the system or not (Matthew 25:32-46). A condemned criminal became the first Believer; let us through love and compassion see such a wonderful thing happen time without number.
But let us think with sober minds. These 46,000 will simply be the first of many more who will revolve quickly through the system, becoming more accomplished criminals with each shortened trip through prison. This will in turn overburden city and county law enforcement agencies already experiencing the depletion of officers and deputies due to budgetary restraints, resulting in a potential breakdown of civil society. We have sown the wind, and now are reaping the whirlwind (Hosea 8:7). The Scriptures show a better way.