Let's take the example of the three propositions, 5, 6, and 9, which address issues in our criminal justice system. First, let's take a look at what we've got now:
- 1 out of every 142 Americans is behind bars
- 1 out of every 44 is on probation or parole
- Government at all levels spends $147 billion on crime related expenses
- Each prison cell costs $100,000 to build
- Each prisoner costs $20,000 per year to house
- Prisoners are exposed to years of separation from family, violence, homosexual rape
- For the last 30 years the rate of rearrest has stayed at 67% - that’s through Democrat and Republican administrations and legislative control
Conservatives tout a tough on crime agenda and liberals hope to rehabilitate offenders through the system. Both have failed - but why? Because they fail to acknowledge the truth of the matter - what the real problems are and what will really solve them.
God is the beginning and end of true justice and because God is a personal being, justice itself is personal. From God's point of view, it's more about restoring relationships that it is about getting what you deserve. In the cross, justice and love are united. It is there that God demonstrates his overwhelming love for us, those who were dead in our trespasses and sin and united in rebellion against him. And, it is there that justice is perfectly satisfied. The result is the restoration of our relationship with God.
When offenders commit crimes, they are not against the State of California as the District Attorney's complain reads. They are against victims and communities and they breach shalom (wholeness - the way things are supposed to be). Looking through the lenses of a biblical worldview, our response to this disruption ought to include an opportunity for the victims and communities to participate in restoring shalom. Our efforts should focus on restitution which recognizes the victim and the harm done and creates an opportunity to mend the breach in the relationship between the offender and victim and community. If we move in that direction, we can hope that the offender can engage in confession, repentance, making amends, and later transformation. The victim gains an opportunity to forgive and let go of a hurt will only grow into hate if left untouched.
This gives us a yardstick to measure these three propositions. Let's use Proposition 9 as an example. According to the official summary, Prop. 9 "requires notification to victim and opportunity for input during phases of criminal justice process, including bail, pleas, sentencing and parole." Based on our discussion above, this sounds pretty good. The current system relegates victims to prosecutor props with very few rights. Even though I like it, this proposition possesses a tone that misses the mark by focusing on individual rights. Rather than pointing us towards true justice - the restoration of relationships - victims need to be involved in the system because they have rights that the system ignores.
Does that cause Proposition 9 to fail the biblical worldview measuring test? I don't think so. The proposition promotes a sound policy even if a bit off base. It does not reflect perfect justice, but it moves us that much closer to it.
Measuring propositions takes some work, but if we want expand the borders of the Kingdom of God among us - the place where what God prefers actually happens - we need to keep at it.