Have you ever noticed, in the Law, Moses never prescribed prison terms. Under Moses’ Law, there was no prison system at all. In fact, on the one occasion someone was held in ward, it was only until his punishment could be decided – which probably took only about a day – and then the man was brought out of ward and sentenced to his appropriate punishment. But a prison term itself was never used as punishment – never. Imagine – the whole nation was to have no prisons!
We can readily see how just is Moses’ system. For example, the prescribed punishment for theft was restitution plus 100-400%. And if the perpetrator was unable to make restitution, provision was made for him to become indentured as a worker to his victim – until restitution was able to be made in-kind.
Thus the innocent victim was compensated, plus the perpetrator was left without a lingering criminal record – he was able to put his misdemeanor behind him and move on. The punishment resulted in restoration of both victim and perpetrator. It was a win-win situation.
Compare that with the injustice of a prison system. The innocent victim has already suffered an injustice at the hands of the perpetrator; but by sentencing the perpetrator to prison, a second injustice is now committed against the victim, this time at the hands of the Criminal Justice System – because the victim’s taxes must now be spent to support the perpetrator during his prison term (the prisoner must be fed, clothed, and accommodated; plus the prison-wardens must receive their salaries). This costs the public around $50,000-$80,000 per prisoner per year.
The economy also suffers, because the prisoner is taken out of the work force and is therefore not contributing to the GNP.
Moreover, while he is in prison, the perpetrator is surrounded by other criminals, many of whom may be worse than him. Rather than correcting or rehabilitating the offender, a prison term can make him worse.
Then, when he is finally released, he carries a criminal record with him for the rest of his life, making it hard for him to get a job. So he probably becomes dependent on welfare, at least for a time. Again, the victim must pay for this, through his taxes.
There are a number of extra, ongoing injustices and costs being imposed on the innocent, yet at no time is the innocent victim actually compensated for his loss. Neither does the perpetrator ever feel he’s able to completely put his misdemeanor behind him and move on. Neither the victim nor the perpetrator is restored. It’s a lose-lose situation.
Moses’ system was far better: restoration plus 100-400%. It provided justice for both victim and perpetrator.
How just and merciful are God’s judgments!
Although we are not under the Old Covenant, we are under Christ’s New Commandment of Love – and love is at the heart of all the commandments. It’s easy to see how Love is at the heart of Moses’ way of dealing with theft.
The way the Law dealt with other crimes besides theft is also very interesting. Again, it never involved imprisonment. It’s goal was both justice and mercy.
Great reforms in Justice have already been achieved through the Christian work of the likes of Elizabeth Fry and Sir Thomas Fowell Buxton who saw the death penalty in England reduced from over 200 crimes to just eight.
But the Prophets foresaw a time when, through the Christ, prisoners would be released. It’s time now that we picked-up where previous Christian prison-reformers left off, and start working towards more a more completely reformed Justice system.
Jesus came “…to set the prisoners free…”
“…And the isles shall wait for His Law.”
Et nunc reges intelligite erudimini qui judicati terram!