Many Christians are concerned with the welfare of prisoners. They may campaign for prison reform, visit prisoners, or vote for a political party that reflects their views on justice equality.
Jesus taught in the parable of the sheep and the goats (Matthew 25:36) that people who help those in prison will go to Heaven. This is because Jesus identifies himself with the outcasts, including prisoners. Those who treat the outcasts well will have eternal life, which means they will go to Heaven.
An example of a Christian response to those who commit crime is the Paulist Prison Ministries. They work with prisoners and detainees, helping to rehabilitate them into society.
The Bible also tells us that God wants justice:
Let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream.Amos 5:24
One of the aims of punishment is retribution, or the Lex Talionis (law of payback). This idea or principle is based on Leviticus, an Old Testament law book. Leviticus taught “an eye for an eye”. This was the principle of limited revenge. It said that the punishment should fit the crime and not be too extreme.
However, in Matthew 5: 38-39, Jesus says:
You have been taught an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, but I tell you do not repay evil for evil. If someone hits you on the right cheek, turn the other cheek.Matthew 5: 38-39
By this teaching, Jesus was not saying that justice did not matter, but that he was totally opposed to revenge. He upheld the Old Testament law, because it came from God. The teaching of an eye for an eye was being used at the time as a way of getting revenge through hatred. Jesus said this attitude was wrong, and must be replaced by forgiveness.
Christians believe that God is a God of justice. He is the ultimate judge and everyone will be answerable to Him one day for their actions. Here on Earth however, He has delegated the right to judge crimes to the state. When the law sentences a criminal, it is exercising justice on God’s behalf.
Christians would extend forgiveness to a criminal who has wronged them, but they would also expect justice to be done to that person in the courts. They would want to see prison helping the criminal to reform.
The two guiding principles are love and justice.