Tuesday, March 09, 2010

More: Church, Community, and the Court System

This past Sunday night Anchor hosted the neighborhood churches, our third gathering during Lent to learn more about the court system of Allen County. Of course we started off the evening with a wide-array of homemade soups and other delish dishes. After feasting we headed upstairs for a session on the adult court system.

Stan Pflueger crammed a semesters' worth of criminal justice stuff into a seventy-five minute meeting. As the presentation got under way, I was a little nervous - what if the content gets a little boring? But when we hit the sixty-five minute mark it was obvious that just about everybody was intensely interested in the information.

I still marvel that about seventy or eighty people from the neighborhood churches gathered for a crash course in criminal justice stuff on a Sunday night. And liked it!

Some conclusions from the session with Stan: putting people in prison is punitive and expensive. It is crazy insane the system we put up with that sends people to jail as the primary punishment for committing a crime. I'm all for justice being served to criminals - but for most of them, prison is not about justice, but convenience.

It costs taxpayers about $55 a day for each inmate in prison, about $40 a day for each inmate in jail, and about $15 a day for each person involved with community corrections. Once a person is sent to prison, odds are they will return there upon their release. While in prison they are "hardened", they are further disconnected from participating in a healthy way within society, they are unable to work (or get work when they get out...), and thus instead of paying taxes and learning to contribute, they absorb tax dollars and remain unchanged..

What if we could reimagine a way to apply justice to crimes, justice that didn't require prisons as the primary strategy. Sure, some people need to be imprisoned, but not most.

Here's a very interesting takeaway from the last three meetings (dealing with kids, youth, and adults in the court system): positive relationships are the KEY to really helping people change their life. If the church wanted to make a difference in the lives of families who are wrapped up in the court and prison system, consider how to offer a community that loves.

This isn't a new or novel idea, but apparently it is often overlooked, it is more effective than assumed, and harder to do than imagined. Friendship, mentoring, hospitality, kindness, neighborliness, community are KEY factors for instigating and sustaining transformation.

This doesn't necessarily require a church to start a new program! Whew! It basically requires a church to...wait...wait...ready for this? It requires a church to be an accepting community! And it also requires mature Christians (character, consistency, love, wisdom) to volunteer in programs initiated by the courts and prisons! It also requires Christians to volunteer in organizations that partner with jails and community correction institutions. But it doesn't mean a church has to start a new small group, a new Bible study, a new series of classes.

Relationships: Connecting. Empowering. Listening. Being Present. Accepting. Inspiring. Praying.

We all know that Jesus Christ is the one with the power, the ability, the capability to change lives. And we also know that we are the hands and feet of Christ - we are the ones that Christ works through to change lives. We don't change lives, Jesus does that - but he works through our lives, our words, our actions, our decisions, our character, our consistency, our love, our wisdom.

If we want to make our neighborhood a better place to live, we need to keep letting Jesus work in us and through us - in this case, in the lives of families who are part of the courts and prisons. Individuals and families who are part of our neighborhood.... who are part of our church.

** This is info sent by Stan Pflueger via email of some info he presented Sunday Evening.
1. What percentage of the offenders sent to prison return to the community?


2. What Country in the world has the highest documented rate of incarceration?

United States (751/100,000)
Russia is second (627/100,000).

The median incarceration rate for all nations is 125/100,000.
Other nations: England (151/100,000), Germany (88/100,000) and Japan (63/100,000)

3. How many people in the United States are currently incarcerated in local jails and prisons?

Approximately 2.4 Million

4. How much does it cost for an individual to be:
in prison ($55.00/day or 20,000 per year)
in jail ($40.00/day or 14,600/year)
on community supervision ($15.00/per day, most of which is paid by the offender)

5. What percentage of individuals who go to prison are re-arrested within 3 years of their release?


6. If an offender is sentenced to a ten-year prison sentence, how much time are they likely to serve in Indiana?

A maximum of five years is likely with good time credit, and the time in prison could be adjusted down even more if the offender completes programs in prison like substance abuse, GED and others.


Richard said...


Great to see your church hosting this. I may steal the notion for Huntington. I think it would be very eye-opening.


Anonymous said...

Hi Tim
Thanks for putting this info out there. I really believe that the Church has a role in creating that loving family for those who have gone into the jail system, as they leave it. Recidivism can be reduced by education (we would do better to educate and treat many people rather than incarcerate) and community.
I also believe that the community ought to do a better job of keeping people out of the system. Every day we can help keep people out of this sytem, sometimes by loaning money for fines, or helping them to get employment, or standing up with them in court.

Steve Cain
Pastor Trinity