Thursday, Apr 9, 2020

The Pandemic in Prison: Remember Those Who Are Incarcerated

You can’t lock it up without letting it loose.

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The advice to slow and curb the spread of the novel coronavirus is by now familiar: Practice social distancing. Don’t congregate in large groups. And always, always wash your hands.

But, what if you live with another person—or two or three—in a 6-by-8 foot cell, and you eat every meal in a cafeteria that seats dozens, and you have no soap?

That’s the situation facing around 1.5 million people in state and federal prisons in America and another 700,000 in local jails. As the COVID-19 pandemic escalates, detention facilities risk becoming “superspreader” sites, rapidly overloading inmates’ medical resources. The United States has the largest prison population and highest known incarceration rate in the world, and incarcerated people are uniquely at risk in this pandemic.

As Christians, we are called to their aid. Jesus listed “proclaim[ing] freedom for the prisoners” among the Spirit’s purposes for his ministry (Luke 4:18-21), and he described care for those in prison as an identifying mark of his followers, connecting those imprisoned to himself (Matthew 25:36-46).

Scripture is replete with stories of the wrongfully detained—Joseph, Daniel, Peter, Paul, and Christ, for a night—yet it never makes one’s innocence a condition of our call to care.

Rather, as in Hebrews 13:1-3, we are simply exhorted to “remember those in prison as if [we] were together with them in prison,” to treat them as we would hope to be treated if were we, but for the grace of God, in their place.

Polling commissioned by Prison Fellowship finds Christians—and especially evangelicals—are more likely than most Americans to want “safe and humane” prison conditions. COVID-19 creates a desperate need to put our faith into action (James 2:14-18).

Remembering Those in Prison

The single best and most achievable way to do that is to get people out of jail. Most people held in American jails are in pre-trial detention, meaning …

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