Very often, people behind bars already have a relationship with God.
Two centuries ago, philanthropist Elizabeth Fry visited an English prison and left horrified by the filthy conditions. Driven by her Christian faith, Fry spent her life building relationships with the incarcerated and advocating improvements to their physical environment. Dominique Gilliard, the Evangelical Covenant Church’s director of racial righteousness and reconciliation, points to Fry’s example in Rethinking Incarceration: Advocating for Justice That Restores, which explores the intersection of Christian faith and criminal justice reform. CT associate digital media producer Morgan Lee spoke with Gilliard about the hope and tension of restorative justice.
What does your book contribute to the current conversation about criminal justice reform?
Most people mention two particular prison pipelines: the war on drugs and the privatization of prisons. But very few people talk about what I would describe as a war on immigration that is modeled closely after the war on drugs. And hardly anyone talks about the deinstitutionalization of the mental health facilities, which is another important driver for mass incarceration.
But I’m also trying to make this conversation relevant to the church. When you look at books like Just Mercy or The New Jim Crow, you don’t see much explicit analysis of the connection between Christian theology and support for mass incarceration. Christians, as a voting bloc, have been pretty beholden to tough-on-crime legislation.
What is your opinion of evangelical ministries that work directly with prisoners?
Certainly, passages like Matthew 25 call us into communion with the incarcerated. But one problem arises when evangelical ministers or volunteers assume that they alone are bringing …