The passage of the prison rape law six years ago provided a catalyst for a change in corrections leadership. The panel formed by that act, having looked at what works and doesn't work, what's going right and devastatingly wrong, came up with standards for detection, prevention, reduction and punishment of rape in our prisons and other corrections and detention facilities. And though there is a federal law on the books, and the study was national in scope, Nolan believes that the prison culture must change on the local level, from the ground up. Ask your local newspaper to look into the conditions in nearby prisons. Urge your state officials to implement the National Prison Rape Elimination Commission standards. Make sure people at your place of worship or in your social circles know this is happening.
Churches have played no small role in the disinfecting process already. These dark crimes came out of the shadows when churches got involved, Nolan emphasizes. "Churches made it a moral issue," Nolan remembers. "In a civilized society we cannot allow this to go on."
No criminal, no matter how heinous his crime, deserves dehumanizing humiliation. Nolan, the commission, and Prison Fellowship are, of course, about law and order. But justice must be just, and there has to be more; society must offer support for its present and former convicts. Prisoners need "hope and a helping hand," Nolan asserts. And the most rewarding aspect of his work, he says, is that despite disappointments, "so many respond" to such "love." "They are eager to change their lives. They are desperate to break out of the cycle that's put them in this shameful place they are in, physically and psychologically." The introduction of love and accountability into prisoners' lives can be a breakthrough, he says.
Violence requires a vigilant response. Whether it's perpetrated against someone who's never jaywalked, a burglar or a homicidal criminal, no one deserves to be raped. And justice requires better guardians than those who would overlook violence against fellow citizens, however unsavory. With "change" as the buzzword du jour, a change geared toward dignity and redemption deserves a fair shake; it's also a worthy investment. As the commission reports, "More than 7.3 million Americans are confined in U.S. correctional facilities or supervised in the community, at a cost of more than $68 billion annually."
Loving your enemies and your neighbor as yourself is pretty audacious, too. Doing anything else would be cruel, if not unusual.