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Locking Up the Poor: Judy’s Response

By Judy Steers

This is a response to Christian Harvey’s article about the Omnibus Crime Bill that was recently passed in the House of Commons.  Check out the article here

Lots of people are talking about this issue!  Thanks for this article Christian.  It’s good to see it talked about from a faith perspective.

One of the scary things about this kind of legislation is that it is based on fear-mongering and, last time I checked, that kind of responding out of fear is not grounded in any kind of appropriate theology.   People of faith do not act or make choices based on fear.   To punish other people’s errors by excluding them has never been a gospel (or appropriate social) value.  Yes, jail sentences are an appropriate response to some crimes.  But not the ones that the legislation is proposing to resolve.  Also, to make people fearful of jail as a way of stopping them from acting out sounds like a plan doomed to fail.

Another upsetting thing about this legislation is that it’s based on an exclusionist idea; that the role of the ‘good people’ is to control the ‘bad people’ and keep them out of the way of the ‘good people’.  Sort of an ‘us versus them’ mentality.  The problem with that is, it doesn’t address how systems, not individuals, create a lot of these problems.   When legislation is introduced that reinforces ‘us/them’ mentality it further divides society and absolves us of being accountable for our collective roles in any situation.

I think we’re finally figuring out that to divide society in those ways is never helpful in the long run.  I just read a couple of articles about how rehabilitation and restorative justice are working much more effectively, especially in the area of youth criminal activity.  This bill reinforces an out-dated worldview – that punishing or excluding people is the best way to change people’s hearts, or that fear is a good way to control behaviour.  Haven’t we learned that is just not true?  Not in a healthy society anyway.

Here’s a thought: I think we do this in small ways in our own schools, workplaces and churches.  We learn to exclude rather than welcome and embrace the person who is struggling.   As a conversation starter with youth, find out about this bill, but then have a conversation about our own lives and circumstances; how do we look at people who are struggling or suffering?   Long before anyone turns to criminal activity, they have experienced suffering and rejection in their own lives in some way.  Grace and mercy demands of us that we don’t punish people for acting out of their own suffering, but gets at the roots of that suffering.  How can we get at some of these issues at their very roots?




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