“Mass incarceration will be halted only by a moral awakening.” (Gilliard, Page 9)
Dominique Gilliard’s forthcoming book, Rethinking Incarceration: Advocating for Justice that Restores, reframes and reimagines the movement to end mass incarceration in ways that are practical, challenging, and encouragingly accessible. Gilliard skillfully weaves together sociology, theology, and personal stories to awaken our minds, hearts, and spiritual convictions on the evils of the prison-industrial-complex and the unrelenting hope of God’s restorative justice.
Rethinking Incarceration expounds upon the seminal works by Michelle Alexander and Bryan Stevenson. Written with robust analysis, compassion, and spiritual revelation, Gilliard moves beyond the War on Drugs to provide further historical and current context to unpack how we got here.
Gilliard highlights four overlooked pipelines feeding into mass incarceration: the war on immigration, mental health, private prisons, and the school-to-prison pipeline. Gilliard also interrogates the Christian church’s complicated history with prison ministry and reform, and identifies the evangelical ideologies and leadership that have directly emboldened our punitive, retributive, and dehumanizing criminal justice system.
One of the most profound aspects of Rethinking Incarceration is Gilliard’s illustration of biblical shalom and restorative justice. Currently, our dominant understanding of justice is that the offender of a crime must be punished and suffer in order for justice to be served. Throughout the book, Gilliard challenges this ideology and posits that biblical justice requires more than retribution.
At the heart of this book, Gilliard argues that justice is only satisfied not (exclusively) through punishment, but through repentance, reparation, and reconciliation. Restorative justice that heals, transforms, and protects communities must be grounded in relationships and human dignity, not in isolation and punishment.
“Biblically, justice is a divine act of reparation where breached relationships are renewed and victims, offenders, and communities are restored.” (Gilliard, Page 139)
In the past, I have found readings and discussions on restorative justice to feel too theoretical, theological, and detached. When there are so many victims (particularly sexual assault survivors) who don’t receive justice or recompense through our criminal justice system, how do I begin to conceptualize justice that restores offenders and reconciles them to their victims and communities?
In regards to that question, this book both challenged and comforted me with its emphasis on transformation, relationships, and community:
Sin is relational, meaning it does not occur in a vacuum between an individual and God, but impacts entire communities. Similarly, justice is also relational, demanding offenders to confront themselves and their communities as they “reflect, learn from, and change in light of their violations.” (Gilliard, Page 181)
Ultimately, I believe in and long for justice that protects, repairs, and transforms individuals, as well as entire systems, structures, and communities. Restoration and transformation cannot occur (only in) exclusion, solitary, and punishment. Instead, restorative justice occurs and thrives in relationships, community, reparation, reconciliation, and reintegration.
Rethinking Incarceration prophetically and pastorally speaks to our moral questions about justice, hope, and punishment. Its content is deep and complex, yet also humanizing, thoughtful, and surprisingly easy to read. Gilliard provides biblical basis, inspiring examples, and practical onramps to resist oppression and care for those incarcerated.
In our current historical and revelatory moment, as the majority of the country is awakening to the demonic lies and strongholds of the US Empire, Gilliard’s work is critical for all seeking to pursue interpersonal and institutional justice. Timely and groundbreaking must-read for 2018.