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Monday, April 11, 2011

Justice That Restores

Chuck Colson who was special counsel to President Richard Nixon and served seven months in a federal prison after pleading guilty in the Watergate case, writes about prison reform in his book, Justice That Restores: Why our justice system doesn't work and the only method of true reform. He is the founder of Prison Fellowship Ministries and does much good work around the world. In this book he talks about some changes that will improve the criminal justice system. The section quoted below highlights one of the principles mentioned in the book. The principle is called tranquillitas ordinis or tranquillity produced by order. I have observed this principle in action at a Christian school. I trust you will be blessed by the section below:

William Wilberforce, for example, the great evangelical British statesman and personal model for my life, once wrote that "the most effectual way to prevent the greater crimes is by punishing the smaller, and by endeavoring to repress the general spirit of licentiousness, which is the parent of every kind of vice." This was a philosophy derived from the biblical view of communal order, and it was the same philosophy that influenced the original principles of policing laid out by Wilberforce's contemporary Sir Robert Peel, who served as home secretary when the Metropolitan Police of London was established in 1829. The first job of the police, Peel argued, was not fighting crime but keeping peace, and he established high standards of professionalism as the police worked to prevent crime. (Indicative of his influence is the fact that the term bobby, used for police, came from Peel's Christian name.)

Seventy years later in the New York City Character, the same principles were repeated: "It is hereby made the duty of the police department to especially preserve the public peace, . . . remove all nuisances in the public streets, . . . restrain all unlawful and disorderly conduct."

Not surprisingly then, in the United States at the turn of the last century it was the police who developed food and soup lines, built police stations with space where migrants could stay, referred beggars to charitable agencies, returned lost children to their homes, and patrolled the streets, preserving the good order of the community.

This view of policing and criminal justice began to unravel in the 1960's. This was due in part to the emergence of the drug culture and the rapid urbanization of modern societies. But it was due as well to a distinct change in our view of police responsibilities. In the 1970's and 1980's, court decisions repeatedly struck down statutes against vagrancy and loitering, statutes that had been passed to uphold public order. Before long, streets, parks, and subways in major urban areas were filled with beggars, prostitutes, drunks, and homeless people. Compounding the problem, there was at the very same time a massive movement to deinstitutionalize the mentally ill and a rise in drug-related crimes. Cities became like combat zones.

In 1982 social scientists James Q. Wilson and George L. Kelling wrote a landmark article describing what they called the broken-window theory. They argued that if a building is left in disrepair with a window broken, for example, soon all the windows are knocked out. Or if a car is sitting on the street badly dented or with broken windows, in a matter of hours the car is destroyed by vandals. Graffiti and litter similarly send a message that authorities are unwilling or are unable to enforce standards of decent behavior. Kelling and Wilson argued that reversing that process would create an attitude of public order, an attitude that would discourage crimes.

In the early 1990's the New York police chief took the broken-window theory to heart and persuaded New York's newly elected mayor and tough ex-prosecutor, Rudolph Giuliani, to give the theory a try. Orders went out to Precincts 69 and 75 and to Brooklyn to "fix broken windows," arrest petty offenders, clean up neighborhoods. The police were to adopt zero tolerance for any violation of public order. Whereas before they had ignored turnstile jumping at subways, officers now nabbed the offenders who often as not turned out to be muggers. Whereas before they had turned a blind eye to minor traffic violations, officers now stopped all violators, which often led to the discovery of drugs and guns in the cars. In Precinct 75, for example, which once had been one of the most dangerous places in America, homicides dropped from 129 to 47 over a three-year period. pp.116-118

Politicians were quick to trumpet their successes anywhere they could find a microphone, as if they had discovered the Holy Grail, the long-sought answer to crime. Yet all they had discovered was the well-established fundamental, biblical truth of shalom, which has informed church thought through the centuries. It was most powerfully articulated in the fourth century by Saint Augustine in his classic City of God. Augustine taught that peace is the "tranquillity produced by order" (tranquillitas ordinis). A community, Augustine argued, enjoys peace and harmony only when it follows the created moral order; only an ordered civil life allows fallen human beings to live and work together. pp. 18-19

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