Summary: Theological Reflection on the problems of mass incarceration, especially in regard to racism and poverty.
Rethinking Incarceration is a book well worth reading. I think the main problem of it is that it is trying to do too much. There is 199 pages of main content and in that, Dominique Gilliard tries to have shortened version of New Jim Crow, trace the (mixed bag) line of Christian reform movements within prison, make a theological argument for restorative model over retributive model, and convince people that systematic racism is a part of the whole history of the criminal justice system. The amount of content that is squeezed into the short book does leave him open to critiques in a few area where one aspect or another could have been fleshed out a bit more.
I glanced around at negative reviews last night and many of them seem to focus on three areas. First, Gilliard takes aim at Penal Substitutionary Atonement (PSA) theory. I think he make a good point at why he is targeting PSA, but I think he also falls into the trap that many PSA proponents have of thinking of atonement theories as the actual work of Christ’s death and resurrection instead of metaphors and mental maps of what is going on with the atonement. If he had kept a tighter focus on PSA as one of many facets of the atonement, he could have pointed out the way that PSA lends itself toward justification of punishment, and God as judge metaphors, and how that influences how we think of criminal justice system theologically. I also think he would benefit from interacting with Fleming Rutledge’s book Crucifixion (I am currently reading this). She does not dismiss PSA as a model but believes that it is over emphasized and her corrective, without dismissal, would be a helpful model.
Other negative reviews complain about it citations. This is a minor complaint but I do think he would do better to cite more people. As helpful as I think Michelle Alexander, Douglas Blackmon, Bryan Stevenson and Christopher Marshall were to his project, over dependence on them I think limited his perspective. Others also think similar things and citing more people would help the book by rounding it out more.
Where I think Gillard shines in Rethinking Incarceration is how he illustrates that justice, not just punishment, is the focus. This was the third area of that was common in negative reviews. But mostly they showed that they do not understand was the purpose of restorative justice is. There are some that seem to believe that restorative justice is about removing pain or punishment from the process. But the point isn’t to make things easier for the criminal. It is to restore right relationship and community trust to the community as a whole. The Black Lives Matters movement has taken off in large part because there is no trust that justice is a real goal of the criminal justice system.
When I read reviews that take individual stats (while ignoring the mass of statistics that are showing similar concepts) and argue with them as a means of trying to dismiss racism as a whole, it really does show me how far we as a society have to go to understand the real harm of racism.
Criminal Justice is just one area, but it is one area where the focus on individualism instead of community really matters. Evangelicals that are individually focused and not communally focussed will continue to miss God’s mission and minimize the role of justice in the life of Christians.
Rethinking Incarnation is well worth reading. I think it could be a bit better, but it is excellent at showing why restoration should be the point of the criminal justice system, it is excellent at giving a broad overview of how racism impacts criminal justice, and how drugs, immigration, and schools feed into the prison pipeline. My complaint is more that I both wanted more and wanted more focus, not that what is here is bad. I want to read more books like this that have good theological reflections on sociological problems.
I also switched between listening and reading. The narrator was not bad. He has a great voice. But I think he was a bad choice for the content of Rethinking Incarceration. Good narrators can be bad for content.
I have 22 highlights and a couple notes on my goodreads account from Rethinking Incarceration. It is a good overview of the book.