Rehabilitation of Criminals

Wanted: A Change of Heart

Can criminals be rehabilitated?  Of course they can.  But–and here is a big offensive “but” to the secular mind: rehabilitation cannot be wrapped up in a programme that produces guaranteed results.  Human beings are not Pavlovian dogs.  They are way above and beyond the controls of behaviourist “therapies”.

In New Zealand there are a group of academics and researchers who have reached the conclusion that when it comes to prisoner rehabilitation, “nothing works”.  David Garrett, writing a guest post in Kiwiblog, described the “nothing works” school as follows:

Criminologists are roughly divided into the “nothing works” camp – of which (Greg) Newbold is for the most part a member, and others who promote and champion various different kinds of programs, most of which have been tried before in some jurisdiction or another. The results of those programs – like (Kim) Workman’s He Ara Hou in the early 90’s – become spectacular failures if left to run long enough, often with increased rather than decreased reoffending rates. The “nothing works” camp holds that rehabilitation is not program but offender dependent – in other words offenders who want to be rehabilitated will be, and the rest won’t.

What a startling conclusion: if the offender has a change of heart and wants to be rehabilitated, he likely will be.  Really.
 The question that is immediately begged is, “What would make a heart change in an offender so that he wants to stop breaking the law?”   No-one can say–at least no-one who is not a Christian.

Christian prison ministries can answer that question, but not to the satisfaction of the pagans.  Christian prison ministries bring a radical perspective to the lives of those prisoners who want to  hear, listen, and participate.  Christian prison ministries speak of the way of life and the way of death.  They bluntly, but not unkindly, tell their charges they are in the way of death–eternal death, judgment in the hands of a holy God, hell–and that their only real hope is to choose life.  Prison ministries offer Jesus Christ as the only Saviour of the world, Who alone can forgive the sins of all men, but particularly prisoners, and bring them new life.

Those who are born again, who repent of their evil deeds and believe upon the Lord Jesus Christ will have had a change of heart–and that change provides a basis, a fertile ground, for rehabilitation.  Those who do not choose life, who deny the Christ, are likely to go on re-offending.

These realities are presented most starkly and clearly in the Scriptures on Golgotha, when our Lord was crucified for the sins of His people.  He was crucified, you recall, between two criminals.  One mocked and abused the Saviour of the world; the other repented of his sins and crimes and believed upon the Lord Jesus Christ, Who granted him eternal life that very day.  Two criminals; but one only had a change of heart.  One was rehabilitated.  The other remained a son of perdition.

Christians ministering in our prisons cannot guarantee successful rehabilitation.  That necessarily requires–in most cases–that participants be born again by God’s Spirit.  This new birth, this beginning again, cannot be organised or engineered by any programme devised by man.  The new birth by the Holy Spirit of God comes upon one and not another as He pleases.

Here is the locus classicus of the matter:

Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”  [John 3: 1-8]

The Christian approach is distinct, unlike all other attempts which eventually end up in the “nothing works” camp.  

David Garrett is an Unbeliever.  He has no truck with the Lord of the earth.  He is his own man who will be the measure of all things.  Consequently, he has reached the point of sad cynicism about criminals being rehabilitated.  But he has also reached the point of folly.

When discussing paedophilia, he writes as follows:

For what it’s worth, here’s my view. Sex offenders – particularly paedophiles – are primarily born not made. While I am aroused by adult women, and gays are aroused by members of their own sex, paedophiles are aroused by children. I do not believe paedophiles can be “cured” of their arousal triggers any more than I could be “cured” of heterosexuality. In the past, when homosexuality was still considered a psychiatric disorder, a number of treatment programs aimed at changing gays’ orientation were tried. All were a spectacular failure.  . . . (W)e must accept reality: sex offenders are very difficult to treat, and impossible to cure. 

Sex offenders are, according to Garrett, genetically constituted to sexual offending.  What a desperate and debilitating point to reach.  It’s also nonsense.  If Garrett is right, where, oh pray, is the homosexual gene?  Where is the paedophilia gene?  Where, for that matter, is the criminal gene?  For Garrett’s contention that paedophiles are “made that way”  must apply equally to all other kinds of criminal offenders.  Moreover, if they are genetically constituted to offend, why must any of their acts be considered to be criminal offences at all, rather than simply natural, and, therefore, must be accepted by society?  No change would be possible.  No change need be possible.  No change of heart can be real.  Genes are genes.

Crime confronts us with the reality of human evil and sinfulness.  Unbelief shows itself to be helpless and useless.  It has nothing to offer to make a criminal want to change.  Modern Unbelief has no saviour.  It has no deliverance.  It only has genes.  This strikes at the heart of all the pagan faiths that pass for truth and knowledge in our day.

Meanwhile Christians are working assiduously in our prisons, bringing the only real hope for mankind and for criminals: if you are to change you must be born again, from above, by the Spirit of God.  He alone can make you truly want to change.

This is a message and position of hope.  It’s not surprising, then, that our prisons have become fertile mission fields.  But even if Unbelief wanted to, it cannot be wrapped up in a programme to guarantee rehabilitation.  God does not comply with pagan programmes.

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