The Purpose of Penology in the Mosaic Law and Today -- By: Gary R. Williams

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 133:529 (Jan 1976)
Article: The Purpose of Penology in the Mosaic Law and Today
Author: Gary R. Williams


The Purpose of Penology in the Mosaic Law and Today

Gary R. Williams

[Gary R. Williams, Professor, Mexico Bible Institute, Puebla, Pue., Mexico.]

What degrades, dehumanizes, criminalizes, embitters men against society, and is supported by the United States taxpayer? According to a lot of people who ought to know, the culprit that matches that description is our prison-centered penal-correctional system. Attention has been most dramatically drawn to our penological woes through the recent rash of prison strikes, demonstrations, riots, and killings. But prisoners are not the only ones dissatisfied with our prison system. David A. Ward reminds us of the extent of the concern when he says,

In addition to inmate leaders and “radicals,” citizens have heard the President, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, the attorney general, their own governors, and other public figures condemn prisons as “schools for crime” and “correctional institutions that don’t correct.” The most common theme at the national conferences of American correctional administrators has become “The Crisis in Corrections.”1

Moreover, the solutions to the problems in our prisons are not easily ascertainable. Although simplistic solutions are often heard proclaimed with dogmatism from all points on the penological spectrum, a far more realistic appraisal of the current situation is that offered by the Vorenbergs, who say, “the sad fact [is] that almost everything we do in the criminal justice field is on the basis of faith, and that there is generally no more empirical support for

continuing what is being done than there is for changing.”2 Indeed, Ward’s survey of the evaluative research that has been done in the field of corrections leads to exactly that conclusion.3

With this being the status of penology today, one could wish for a direct word from God concerning how to deal with convicted offenders. Although no such word has been given directly to any modern society, the Bible does record in some detail a civil law given to ancient Israel by the all-wise God. While that law is not applicable in every detail to modern pluralistic society, it certainly provides a superb starting point for finding answers to today’s penological riddles.

Penological philosophy generally has been shaped by one or more of the following four purposes: retribution, deterrence, restraint, and rehabilitation. There is no unanimity today concerning which of these purposes ought to predominate. The disagreement is ...

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