Book Review: “Justice that Restores” by Chuck Colson

I think most Americans would agree that our American system of justice is less than stellar. We spend massive amounts of money incarcerating criminals—yet we seem unable to avoid the problem of repeat offenses.

Conservatives insist that the answer to this dilemma is harsher sentences from the beginning. Liberals insist that the answer is to work harder to rehabilitate offenders. In Justice that Restores, Chuck Colson argues that neither of those work. He argues that the rehabilitative approach, because it fails to underscore the reality of moral offenses against others, ultimately fails to change behavior. At the same time, he says that the harsh sentence approach serves to enrage criminals without changing their behavior, while simultaneously costing Americans significant amounts of money.

Colson argues instead for a “Restorational” approach to justice. At the center of this approach is the idea that criminals should seek to make right what they have done wrong—becoming aware of the impact that their transgressions have had on others and taking action to correct what they have done. He argues that incarceration should be reserved only for violent criminals who are a risk to others—and that non-custodial forms of punishment should be designed to deal with nonviolent offenses (One shocking statistic Colson shares is that in 1995, 71% of all incarcerated criminals were guilty of nonviolent crimes.)

I found Colson’s book to be a well-written description of today’s justice dilemma—and a well-thought-out suggestion for how to solve today’s justice dilemma.

Colson has a unique viewpoint on justice as a former offender who served seven months in a Federal prison following his conviction as a participant in the Watergate scandal. He came to know Christ during his incarceration and has since founded Prison Fellowship, a ministry to incarcerated prisoners and their families.

Justice that Restores gives plenty of statistical descriptions of the justice problem—but it goes beyond to give personal examples both from Colson’s own incarceration and from his conversations with prisoners over the years.

This is an excellent book for all those interested in seeing justice prevail in the American court system. I feel that this book should have great cross-sectional appeal as this issue affects the political and the apolitical, the friend of offenders and the friend of victims. We are all affected, whether we recognize it or not, by the failings of our justice system—and we ultimately can all play a role in helping to establish a justice that restores.

Rating: 5 stars
Category:Criminal Justice
Synopsis:Using the Christian worldview as a starting place, Colson offers an alternative model to the current American justice system.
Recommendation: This short, easy-to-read volume engages thought regarding and offers innovative solutions to America’s current criminal justice problem.

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