What is the primary purpose of the American criminal justice system? Some feel its purpose is solely punishment (hire more cops, build more jails). Some feel its purpose is solely rehabilitation (offer more programs for criminals). Others feel it is a combination of punishment and rehabilitation. But Charles Colson believes that the question of the purpose of our criminal justice system is the wrong place to start, because we need first to understand what justice truly is, before we can form (or reform) our system of justice. Based on a biblical understanding of justice, our current system is both invalid and ineffective, says Colson. It may even be counterproductive, according to the biblical standard.
What a way to start a book. Colson then looks at four major issues relating to justice. He offers an insightful survey of what makes a just society, focusing on the consequences of naturalism on law, and its implications for criminal justice. He turns then to the roots of crime, and how our attitudes about humans and human nature affect our perceptions of those roots. He urges a realistic view of human nature, and argues that the Judeo-Christian mindset provides the most realistic view. Colson turns next to redemption, answering questions about the moral nature of crime, and the moral answer to crime. He strongly emphasizes Christianity's role in socio-cultural transformation. Finally, Colson looks at restorative justice, what it entails, and why the Bible is unique in its concept of justice.
Very few people will argue with Colson about the effectiveness of our current criminal justice system. Recidivism has hovered around 70 percent since Colson was in prison in the early 1970s, and many of the drops in crime statistics have more to do with the fact that criminals are in jail than they do with a moral change in our society. Colson's conclusion: restorative justice is the only solution, and the Judeo-Christian worldview is the only one that can bring it about. Restorative justice both heals the hurts caused by crime, and helps to heal the criminals of their desire to commit crime (transformation). In the end, only restorative justice will succeed as a criminal justice system. And only the Judeo-Christian mindset will accomplish restorative justice.