13 January 2020

Set the Prisoners Free: Christianity and Prison Abolition

“He has sent me to proclaim release to the prisoners
    and recovery of sight to the blind,
        to let the oppressed go free, 
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

--Luke 4:18

Jesus’s Gospel is a message of freedom. Liberation from bondage permeates the biblical narrative as a driving theme, with Jesus quoting Isaiah as he announces the Spirit of the Lord is upon him to proclaim release to the prisoners and to let the oppressed go free.

Yet the United States of America, a country that many Christians call home, has the highest incarceration rate of any country on the planet. By some estimates, although the US has only 5% of the world’s population, it contains over 20% of the world’s prison population. People of color, especially Black Americans, are disproportionately incarcerated, making up nearly 40% of the US prison population despite being 13% of the population as a whole. In Canada, another country with deep Christian origins, Indigenous people make up 46% of incarcerated youth and only 8% of Canada’s population.

Mass incarceration and its ties to systemic racism have prompted a radical movement for not only prison reform, but the abolition of prisons altogether. Such a proposal raises many questions. What would a world without prisons look like? How should communities deal with injustices? What are the causes of crime, and how might justice be done without the prison? In this thirteen week online class, we will explore how Christianity both funds the ideology of mass incarceration and a spirit of prison abolition, asking what it would mean to proclaim release to the prisoners today.

All-online 13 weeks (January 20 - April 19, 2020)

ICSD 132903 W20
Dean Dettloff
Distance (Online)