MINISTRIES

ARTICLES

VOLUNTEERS

STAFF

CONTACT US

ADVISORY BOARD

SCHEDULE

DONATIONS

RESOURCES

The Genuine Change Agent
By Don Smarto
For many years I have been perplexed by people's criticism of the criminal justice system in one specific area. It takes the form of this basic question: Why doesn't the system change criminals? Implied is a change for the better, meaning transformation into a stable citizen and law abiding person. The disapproval is aimed at Prisons, Probation, and Parole in particular.

If we define criminal behavior as sin, the work of regeneration never has been and never will be the work of any secular government agency but of the Holy Spirit, and it is the role of the Church to restore a sinner through Salvation, confession, repentance, prayer, discipleship, and accountability, which is to say as an instrument of God's grace.

Do prisons rehabilitate? In the sense of the total regeneration of the man or woman, NO! A prisoner may encounter the living God while in prison and be "born again" but that is separate from the mission of the penal facility. The mandate of the warden is "safe and secure custody". A safe environment is debatable. Secure, which means no escape is generally accomplished. The sentence or punishment of the offender is deprivation of freedom. Why critize the prison for not rehabilitating the prisoner when that is not their mandate?

Does parole rehabilitate? The number of released prisoners divided by the number of parole officers demonstrates a fundamental problem; there are not enough officers for weekly contact. It is a monthly check-in process which can conceal all but the most appalling behavior. It can be guidance but only on a secular level. A man, who is unemployed and back in his former neighborhood, will soon return to drug use, gang activity, and crime without spiritual changes.

Does probation rehabilitate? A probation officer monitors compliance with the court's rules of probation, which may include drug testing, curfew, non-association with known felons, not leaving the state, finding a job, and attending AA meetings. All of these factors may contribute to stability for a season. With high case loads of 150 - 200 individuals, it is a transient and cursory check-in. It does not change the mind or heart regarding the basic sin problem.

Over a century ago, the Church was the center of the community and on the forefront of early social work and prison reform. It was also the leader in health care, education, literacy, and work with delinquents.
In America, the Quakers were the leaders in prison reform. The Catholic Church had youth (CYO) boxing clubs in urban areas and facilities like Boys Town and Maryville.

By and large, the Church has abdicated the work of regeneration of the criminal (sinner) to government. Anyone who has ever worked with a troubled child knows you have to work with the whole family. The Church is equipped for ministry to the family, not a facility. Effective programs and counseling require years of support not the "silver bullet". There are no simple solutions for families in crisis.

So today, many of the great universities (like Harvard) that started as Christian institutions are secular, most hospitals are profit generating businesses, and social work is often based on a behavior modification model or basic psychology.

More laws, rules, and regulations will not reform people. A secular system of rehabilitation will not lead to regeneration. Education is good but expanding intellectual capacity will not address the sin problem. Being more "religious" will not create true restoration.

Jesus said to Nicodemus (John, Chapter 3) "You must be born again". Paul said (II Cor., Chapter 5) we become a "new creation" in Christ. We are told in Ephesians 2 we are "dead in trespasses and sins". Look at the word REGENERATION. The prefix re is Latin for "again". The Latin generare from the Greek genesis means "to bring into being" which is why the first book of the Bible is Genesis. Whether by creation, by natural birth, or spiritual birth, all sinners require a new life.

The root of crime is rebellion, which is sin. The only solution to the sin problem is regeneration by the power of the Holy Spirit. Prisons may get an offender's attention. Parole may add accountability. Probation may lend structure, but no government agency can generate spiritual life. They may be helpful to the offender, but a fallen man is dead and they must pass from death to life, from Satan to God to achieve true regeneration. How can criminals change to law abiding citizens? The Church has the answer - go to them.


2010© Youth Direct Ministries. All rights reserved.