What Do You Know About Parole, Earned Time, and Good Time Credits?
Is there a purpose and a place for both incarceration and active rehabilitation in our justice system? A 2019 survey by the Barna Group found that the majority of U.S. adults, and nearly 80% of Christians, favor people earning time off their sentences for completing programs that prove to develop positive life skills and make returning to crime less likely.
The Bible makes it clear that justice should be reliable and proportional. The justice system should not show favoritism or undue leniency (Leviticus 19:15; Proverbs 31:8-9; Luke 4:18-19). God has compassion for victims of crime. Likewise, He offers redemption through Christ to all, including the thief on the cross (Luke 23:42-43).
Prison Fellowship® advocates for justice that respects and affirms the God-given dignity of every person. This includes victims of crime, perpetrators of crime, and the families and communities they represent. We want to see a system that holds people accountable and offers real opportunities for redemption.
For more than 40 years, Prison Fellowship has seen what can happen when a system balances punishment and opportunities for transformation. For example, the Prison Fellowship Academy® builds communities behind bars. In these communities, men and women develop and practice biblical values that help them become good citizens. As a result, Academy graduates can emerge as safer neighbors, better spouses and parents, and healthy community contributors.
As a result of long sentences and few eligible prisoners being released to parole, many prisons face overcrowding. In fact, nearly half of all state prison systems and the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) operate at or above their operational, design, or rated capacity levels. Meanwhile, people who are released from prison are returning to crime and incarceration at high rates.
Crime damages communities and demands accountability. If we are serious about making communities safe, punishment must include avenues to cultivate character change, to make amends, and to offer a fresh start. Christians cannot accept a system that sets unduly long penalties and that blocks pathways to redemption. There is a better way.
Research shows that in-prison programming contributes to safe prison environments and post-release success. When structured well, release incentives like parole, earned time credits, and good time credits encourage program participation. The result? More opportunities for character growth and skill development, without sacrificing the just penalty that victims and communities deserve. Where prudent, programs should be assigned based on prisoners’ individual risk and needs.
Release incentives provide a more active form of accountability than simply "doing time." Instead of warehousing people who've broken the law, these incentives encourage prisoners to equip themselves with crucial skills and resources for a better way to live—both inside prison and after release.
A WAY FORWARD
How followers of Christ respond to crime and incarceration matters. Applying Christian values of justice and redemption to criminal justice reform requires that we ensure the punishment fits the crime and isn't skewed by favoritism. Our faith should move us to foster a culture of redemption in prisons that translates to success on the outside. And we must engage people upon release in supportive communities that provide stability and safety.
The goal of justice reform is to create meaningful solutions that succeed in keeping communities safe and strong. Punishment for crime must include opportunities for people to make restitution where necessary, build personal character, and reestablish trust. Release incentives are an effective way to do just that.
Scripture calls faithful Christians to take up the cause of justice in the public square. With faith values as a guide, we can honor the call to promote human dignity, justice, and redemption. Because, behind bars or on the outside, people matter to God.
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