In January of 2014, the U.S. Congress established the Charles Colson Task Force on Federal Corrections. Prison Fellowship President and CEO Jim Liske was asked to serve on that task force, representing the interests of Prison Fellowship, and providing a voice to millions of prisoners and their families.
Last month, the task force—a nine-member, nonpartisan committee co-chaired by former U.S. Representatives J. C. Watts and Alan Mollohan—convened for the first time to discuss strategies for reducing the existing prison population, improving prison conditions, and making the judicial process more just and responsive.
In a commentary on the Fox News website, Liske explains the role and importance of Christian values in establishing effective and meaningful changes in the criminal justice system. “The time is right for prison reforms that aren’t just evidence-based, but values-based, reflecting our beliefs in the God-given dignity, value, and potential of every human being,” says Liske. “Justice can be restorative when we make sure that the opportunity for both accountability and redemption are balanced at the core of our criminal justice system.”
The ultimate objective, according to Liske, is healing—for the victims and their loved ones, for the offenders, and for the community. Only by pursuing such restoration can meaningful reform take place.
“At its heart, crime isn’t about law-breaking; it’s about violating the peace and wholeness of the entire community. Public safety may require that we lock someone up, but that alone will not heal victims or the community or change the conditions that help breed crime. When the responsible party has the opportunity for redemption and restoration — by making amends to his victims, changing his thinking, and earning back the public’s trust by living a law-abiding, constructive life upon release—the community can find healing and move beyond the vicious cycle of crime and incarceration.
Liske shares a personal reflection about his nephew. It was only after a personal epiphany that his criminal activity was impacting other lives and families, he says, that he was able to change his behavior. “Government cannot mandate that kind of change in any individual,” says Liske, “but it can facilitate change through policies that emphasize human dignity and prioritize restoration alongside accountability.”
For such change to occur, however, there needs to be a change in society that values rehabilitation and seeks to restore as many prisoners as possible back into society once they have paid for their crimes. “We all need to speak up to create the kind of restorative society, based on the dignity and value of every life, that each of us wants to call home.”