This scripture describes a judgment against a law-breaker and a sentence of flogging. While flogging is severe (it is still practiced in many countries for even minor offenses), the Law limits it to no more than forty lashes. Why the limit? Because otherwise “your neighbor will be degraded in your sight.” The “criminal” is still a neighbor and still deserves dignity. His/Her humanity must be preserved. There is protection for the “criminal” even in the midst of punishment.
This is criminal justice that is done in public. It is out in the open where the lashes can be counted and those doing the flogging can be stopped after 40. Thankfully, in our enlightened correctional system, we have done away with public hangings and floggings. However, we have moved the punishment indoors to the prison and in the process removed correction from public scrutiny and accountability. We have hidden the criminal and those who carry out the punishment. And we no longer have to watch our neighbor be degraded before our eyes.
Did you know that twice as many rapes occur inside prisons than outside? Did you know that guards frequently beat up prisoners and encourage prison fights for entertainment? Did you know that prison wardens frequently place prisoners in solitary confinement for undisclosed reasons and keep them there indefinitely? And there is little accountability.
What words do we use in our society to describe a a person who has been convicted of a crime and incarcerated? Does the word “neighbor” come to mind? Why or why not? What in our correctional system do you think would change if we did see the criminal as our neighbor? How might we restore accountability in a correctional system that is removed from our sight?
Have you fasted in support of our neighbors at the Menard Correctional Center and other prisons around the country who are on a hunger strike because they have been in solitary confinement for indefinite periods of time in terrible conditions? Set a time now to do it. Check out the resource page for an update on conditions at Menard.