In 2003, US Supreme Court justices struggled with the question of whether inmates have a constitutional right to visits with friends and family. The state of Michigan had imposed stricter visitation policies to ‘better protect visitors and to stop the smuggling of drugs and weapons’.
The restrictions applied to visits by minors who weren’t an inmate’s child or grandchild. Former prisoners, unless they were immediate family, were also no longer allowed to visit. Inmates with two substance abuse violations in prison could have visitation privileges taken away altogether.
Now this message is not about prisoner visitation rights, which is what the supreme court was pondering. Let every right be taken from prisoners, if necessary, but no human court has the right to impose restrictions on the members of a prisoner’s family. It is the rights of the families of the incarcerated people that the courts should be pondering.
Until God intervenes in human affairs and abolishes the prison system altogether with a far more effective way of meting out justice, millions of people will have to languish for long years, many for their entire lives, behind iron bars. These are people who have family members –spouses, children, parents, siblings – just like people outside the prison walls do. They have the same emotional and physical needs like any free people. The Great Judge of all humanity has not granted any human court the authority to deny these needs to any person, even if he is a deadly criminal.
Obviously, dangerous prisoners cannot be let out to visit their families. But families should be allowed not just to visit their beloved one in prison, but to interact with him or her to their total satisfaction. This means, above all, that governments should allocate far more funds for construction of prisons that incorporate family accommodation for every prisoner with family.
Every prison should have a section where at least the prisoner’s immediate family can stay with him or her every day, if they so wish, or for as many days as they desire. This will ensure that even as the prisoner does time, he is not deprived of his time with his family. And any person who deprives another person of his intimate life with his family will be condemned with a greater condemnation than that which landed the prisoner in jail.
Governments that are ready to show this mercy, not to prisoners, but to their families, will find mercy in these sooncoming endtimes. But those authorities who deprive wives and husbands, sons and daughters, mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, of their God-given right to live with their family member, ‘it would be better for them’, in the words of a great prophet, ‘if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were thrown into the sea’.1
Governments will have to devote much money and effort to find practical ways to bring about his revolutionary change in prison life. They have to devise ways to ensure this right of family members is not abused. But, if they really want to, they can, because they will have the support of the One who keenly desires reformation in the world’s justice system and who will guide any willing government to devise merciful ways of dealing with wrongdoers.
The Great Judge waits for a man in authority today who has both the compassion and the boldness to help initiate, in whatever small way he possibly could, a great transformation in his country’s prison system.
1 Luke 17:2