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Mass incarceration is one of the key societal issues facing the US today. While numerous factors have contributed to this problem, a major one is the punitive approach of our criminal justice system. This paper examines the underlying justifications for our criminal justice system’s emphasis on punishment using Christian and dominant cultural frameworks. The primary objectives of this paper are: (1) to compare and contrast the core tenets and values of two distinct philosophical approaches to punishment - retribution and restoration - both of which are active within the US criminal justice system; (2) to explore how these two approaches align with biblical values of justice, grace, mercy, and atonement; and (3) to discuss practical implications for how Christian social work educators, scholars, and practitioners can advocate for criminal justice reform based on clear Christian convictions.
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