Sunday, September 06, 2015
Death Without Killing
We have watched all three seasons of the American series called Rectify, something like twenty-two episodes in total. It is the story of Daniel Holden, convicted of raping and murdering a friend when he is eighteen years old and sentenced to death. After twenty years on death row and multiple appeals Daniel is released, although not exonerated, based on DNA evidence.
The story of his return to society unfolds slowly, with flashbacks to his time of incarceration in a bleak cell. We have friends who gave up on the series because they felt it crawled along, yet it asks some important questions about how supposedly advanced societies treat those in prisons, and what happens when those incarcerated find themselves out in the "real world" again. I have been surprised by how much religion and God-talk there is in the episodes. I got a kick of out of the prison chaplain, named Charlie, who Daniel calls Charlie Chaplain.
We don't have a death row in Canada because we don't have a death penalty. But we do send people away for a long time when they have committed serious crimes, and a very few will never be released. An article entitled Death Without Killing in the most recent Christian Century asks if it is much more ethical to incarcerate human beings for decades without efforts at rehabilitation or an opportunity to eventually leave prison. In the US there is LWOP - "life without parole" in some states. We don't have a similar sentence in Canada although the federal Conservatives are back to the tough-on-crime rhetoric during this election campaign, including the notion of "life means life."
I figure there are some individuals who should never leave prison because of the nature of their crimes or their threat to society. Yet if I feel that if killing a person for killing a person is inhumane, how is incarcerating a young person for until he or she dies much better? Pope Francis equates the two and calls LWOP a "hidden death sentence." In both Canada and the United States the poor and people of colour tend to receive longer sentences, so the injustice goes even further.
We need to remember that we imprison inmates in penitentiaries, which suggests that they may eventually be penitent, and change. Supposedly Christians are convinced that God can be part of the process of change and redemption for any human being.
Are you willing to weigh in on this one?