Author Tuesday is here again! Today’s book is such an important read for all of us, because it’s one that longs for justice and peace in America’s broken incarceration system. If you like Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow or Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy, Dominique Gilliard’s Rethinking Incarceration is the next book for you to read. It’s an honor to have Dominique in this space today, and I can’t recommend his book more highly.
Tell us a bit about yourself, will you? I was born and raised in metro Atlanta. Growing up in the shadows of the city where Dr. King pastored and having a father who worked for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (which Dr. King founded), profoundly informed my faith. Dr. King’s ministry, theology, and ethics have been vital to my discipleship. Additionally, my mother is a pastor. I like to jokingly say that I took the best parts of each of my parents. I am the middle of their three kids.
I chose to do my undergraduate studies in the heart of Atlanta, where I double majored in History and African American Studies at Georgia State University. I graduated and went on to earn a master’s degree in history from East Tennessee State University, with an emphasis on race, gender, and class in the United States. I then went on to earn an MDiv from North Park Seminary, where I also served as an adjunct professor teaching Christian ethics, theology, and reconciliation.
I am an ordained minister, who presently serves at the Director of Racial Righteousness and Reconciliation for the Evangelical Covenant Church. Prior to serving in this position, I served as a pastor in Atlanta, Chicago, and Oakland. I also currently serve on the boards of directors for the Christian Community Development Association and Evangelicals for Justice.
Let’s talk about Rethinking Incarceration: what, in a nutshell, is your book about anyway? My book explores the history and foundation of mass incarceration, examining Christianity’s role in its evolution and expansion. The United States has more people locked up in jails, prisons, and detention centers than any other country in the history of the world. Mass incarceration has become a lucrative industry, and the criminal justice system is plagued with bias and unjust practices. And the church has unwittingly contributed to the problem. I conclude by showing how Christians can pursue justice that restores and reconciles, offering creative solutions and highlighting innovative interventions.
The Bible consistently reveals that restoration, not punitiveness, is at the heart of God’s justice. Divine justice is restorative and reconciling, not retributive and isolating. The restorative nature of God’s justice is woven throughout Scripture. Biblically, God works amid brokenness; restoring victims, communities, and offenders. The church’s inability to respond to crime in a biblically rooted way that testifies to the restorative nature of God has emboldened a system of retribution.
Divine justice entails people being reconciled to God, each other, the community, and themselves. Rather than rehabilitating, our system quarantines people who have caused harm, which ultimately harms them through punitive measures and dehumanizing conditions. While biblical justice contains punishment for wrongdoing, these punishments are enfolded within a larger narrative of relationship, redemption, and restoration.
Instead of supporting a system that merely punishes, Christians must pursue a justice system that rebuilds community, affirms human dignity, and seeks God’s shalom. The church has the power to help transform our criminal justice system. If reconciled communities are ever to become the true aim of our justice system, the Church must lead the way in advocating for a system that gives opportunities for authentic rehabilitation, lasting transformation, and healthy reintegration. We are not all called to the same thing, but we are all called to something. Every congregation has a role to play.
Do tell, what was the inspiration behind it? The Church’s eerie silence in this watershed moment. As followers of Christ, we must ask what our faith calls us to in this unprecedented era of mass incarceration. Collectively and individually, we must contemplate what bearing witness to the gospel in this critical moment entails.
I was also motivated by Dr. King, who said, “The church must be reminded that it is not the master or the servant of the state, but rather the conscience of the state. It must be the guide and the critic of the state, and never its tool. If the church does not recapture its prophetic zeal, it will become an irrelevant social club without moral or spiritual authority.” For far too long, the church has functioned as the state’s tool. Unwittingly, we have theologically legitimated mass incarceration and conceded our prophetic zeal. But we must reemerge as the moral conscience of our nation.
How do you hope readers will be changed by your words? I hope readers will realize that mass incarceration will not end via legislative tweaks and incremental reforms. Mass incarceration will be halted only by a moral awakening. Citizens nationwide must refuse to remain silent while entire communities are stigmatized, targeted, and destroyed by a system preying on the least of these.
I hope that Christian readers realize that the church’s definition of justice has been rooted in worldly constructs, and not biblical truths. Regarding defining justice, we have conformed to the patterns of this world. I hope this book compels believers to reexamine the biblical test, in search of a more scripturally based response to mass incarceration. I also hope that this book summons us to reconsider our civic engagement, ethics and discipleship.
Lest we forget to ask, how have YOU been changed by writing Rethinking Incarceration? I have come to realize that the vast majority of people who are warehoused within our nation’s prisons, jails, and detention centers, need medical interventions, not incarceration. These individuals have mental impairments and chemical dependencies, and incarcerating them is not leading to reformation, rehabilitation, nor successful reintegration into society after they have served their time.
Furthermore, since the vast majority of incarcerated people are not violent “thugs” or “super predators”, who is incarcerated? The answer is societies most vulnerable populations: the mentally impaired, migrants, people with disabilities (mental and physical), the poor, and people of color who reside in governmentally neglected communities that are marred by failing schools, few vocational opportunities, and systemic injustice.
Cara here again: like I said, it’s an honor having Dominique in this space. I ate up his book and would love for you to be changed by it, too. Want to win a copy of Rethinking Incarceration? Leave a comment here, or visit Instagram in a day or two for more chances to win. Contest ends Friday, March 23rd. Good luck!
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