In "Voices of Faith," religious leaders answer readers' questions.
Above all, be fair
The Rev. R.L. Baynham, pastor of Metropolitan Baptist Church, Kansas City, Kan.: Criminals may be defined as those engaged in unlawful activities who have been found guilty. How, then, do w e measure out the appropriate punishment for that action and in what manner do we feel justified with our own behavior?
Christians recognize that the Bible encourages them to have the proper attitude toward those who have been judged for crimes and wrongdoing against man. Judgment should be rendered with a great deal of humility. We are taught to recognize our own ability to fall prey to wrongdoing and violation of the law.
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Society and its officials must use every tool possible to bring those judged and convicted to a reasonable conclusion, restoration and rehabilitation. Many of those who have been judged certainly have had the misfortune of improper upbringing.
We should be very sensitive to the manner in which we apply the laws of society and understand that we cannot assume that mercy is only for a few and not for all. Our goal should be to use every possible method to be fair in the way we dispose of cases and issues that impact the behavior of all in our society.
Decisions are based on experience
Lama Chuck Stanford, Rime Buddhist Center & Monastery: Our society and justice system are based on the idea that each of us has free will. Therefore, if we break or violate a law, we are held accountable for our actions.
But what exactly is "free will"? All of the decisions we make are based on our past experiences. Someone who grew up in a poor environment is going to have had very different experiences than someone who grew up in a comfortable environment. These experiences may affect the choices that we make. Therefore, what we call "free will" is, in fact, only a conditioned type of free will based on all of our past experiences.
I work with inmates in prison. I'll never forget an inmate who grew up in the housing projects on the south side of Chicago who told me that all of the adult males from his neighborhood were either dead or in prison. What a sad commentary on our culture.
On the other hand, another inmate who grew up in a very poor neighborhood told me about a friend of his from this neighborhood who went on to become an executive for a large corporation. It 's not carved in stone that if you come from a poor neighborhood you will become a criminal. So, while one's upbringing should not excuse someone for the punishment of a crime, I do believe that up bringing should be considered during sentencing.