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.

Dominique Gilliard explores the history and foundation of mass incarceration, examining Christianity’s role in its evolution and expansion. He then shows how Christians can pursue justice that restores and reconciles, offering creative solutions and highlighting innovative interventions.

The church has the power to help transform our criminal justice system. Discover how you can participate in the restorative justice needed to bring authentic rehabilitation, lasting transformation, and healthy reintegration to this broken system.

"Dominique DuBois Gilliard calls for a holy disruption of the systems and pipelines that imprison mostly black and brown people in the United States' mass-incarceration-industrial complex. Rethinking Incarceration exposes the ways the church has been complicit in this injustice and invites people of faith to engage in justice that is restorative. This book is historical, theological, scholarly, accessible, pastoral, and prophetic. It should be read in the seminary and university classroom, the pastor's study, and the church book club. Gilliard offers a very relevant word for one of the most central issues of our time!"

Curtiss Paul DeYoung, CEO, Minnesota Council of Churches

"An astonishing book—full of insights that draw from history, politics, social research, and Scripture. Gilliard crafts a compelling picture that links local policy and decisions and shows the impact on a national scale. This book is a thought-provoking call to the church to take a practical role in engaging with mass incarceration and its effects."

Nikki Toyama-Szeto, executive director, Evangelicals for Social Action (ESA)

"Dominique gives a thorough, honest look at the history of mass incarceration, blending advocacy and theology and driving us to respond as a community of faith. This is a must-read from a leader whose passion inspires hope."

Leroy Barber, Voices Project, board chair of Missio Alliance, author of Embrace

"Walking in the footsteps of Michelle Alexander and Bryan Stevenson, Dominique Gilliard lays out here the history and structure of mass incarceration in the United States, touching on all its sinister complications and biases; the equally sinister theological and scriptural moves that have accompanied it; and, most important of all, the powerful alternative vision and program that the church can—and must—now embody as it begins to dismantle this horror. A sustained, passionate, prophetic, and constructive work."

Douglas A. Campbell, professor of New Testament, Divinity School, Duke University

"This is the book I've been waiting for. Since the publication of The New Jim Crow, we have needed an analysis of incarceration and justice from a Christian perspective. Rethinking Incarceration is a powerful book that needs to circulate widely, for in it we learn not only of the issues, but how to move forward for desperately needed restorative change."

Michael O. Emerson, provost and professor, North Park University, author of Divided by Faith

"In this stunning book that moves your heart, mind, and soul, Dominique Gilliard dissects mass incarceration and the narrative that helped create it. He shows with precision that slavery did not end, it just evolved. If you've ever doubted that sin is not just personal but also systemic, read this book. Dominique helps light the way forward away from the punitive justice that is crushing two million people today and toward the restorative justice at the heart of the Christian faith, the stuff the gospel is made of—where there is healing for both the victims and the victimizers, the captives are set free, the yokes of oppression are crushed, and grace gets the last word."

Shane Claiborne, author and activist

"In a time of great anxiety, knowledge and wisdom are desperately needed. In Rethinking Incarceration, Dominique Gilliard provides well-researched content as well as insightful stories that provide the essential foundation for a long overdue dialogue on mass incarceration. The church needs this primer on the history of incarceration in the United States and needs to hear the cogent theological analysis and response that is offered. This text should now be required reading for any thinking and feeling American Christian who wants to engage the topic of mass incarceration in a meaningful way."

Soong-Chan Rah, author of The Next Evangelicalism and Prophetic Lament

"From slavery and Jim Crow to mass incarceration, the confinement and control of black bodies in the United States has always been the heartbeat of the Republic's strategy to maintain white dominion. Twisted theologies grew like hedges of support and wicked webs of justification for crimes against the humanity of African peoples. White supremacy's most long-standing strategy has largely stayed intact because we have not cut down its supports at the root. Dominique Gilliard's Rethinking Incarceration chops at the roots of mass incarceration by challenging the theological premises upon which it rests. Gilliard's exacting historical lens, combined with masterful biblical work, unravels and uproots the hedges of support for mass incarceration while painting a new theological vision of reform and redemption in the United States. This is a must-read."

Lisa Sharon Harper, founder and president, FreedomRoad.us

"Dominique DuBois Gilliard's book is both hopeful and tough. The social and historical analysis is filled with hard truths. Incarceration in the United States cannot be separated from our racial history of the slavocracy in its former and contemporary forms. Gilliard writes to all who are deeply committed to embodying Christian understanding of justice, mercy, and restoration. Beginning with the view that restoration is required for those who have been imprisoned is expected in a book such as this, but Gilliard advocates for the restoration needed by the church and individual outside the confinement of prison. Real restoration involves being and becoming a faith community whose theological anthropology recognizes the full humanity of all—the imprisoned and the ones on the other side of the bars. Such a theological anthropology calls the church to give up its preoccupation with punishment in favor of love and restoration. If you have ever taken time to notice the injustices that permeate our system of justice and have been brokenhearted by the abuses, racism, and privilege that doles out prison sentences to some and offers grace to others, you will be challenged by Rethinking Incarceration."

Phillis Isabella Sheppard, associate professor of religion, psychology, and culture, Vanderbilt University Divinity School

"This book is quick, informative, and deeply transformational. Our understanding of the human condition, notions of punishment and reform, and the nature of God are all at stake in Dominique Gilliard’s theological and passionately argued work. Gilliard expertly traces our complicated relationship with prisons and mass incarceration through poignant historical analysis and compelling biblical argumentation. Rethinking Incarceration has the rare power to change the church in America."

Ken Wytsma, author of The Myth of Equality: Uncovering the Roots of Injustice and Privilege

"The church in the age of mass incarceration has too often been enslaved to a theology that makes sense of systemic oppression and human negation. Dominique Gilliard has gifted us with a robust and clarifying theology of the body and the church, pointing us in the direction of liberation, not just for the incarcerated, but also a church bound by chains of human hierarchy."

Michael McBride, national director of PICO Network Urban Strategies and LIVE FREE Campaign

"This is an outstanding addition to this incredibly important conversation."

Publishers Weekly, Starred Review
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CONTENTS

Introduction

Part I: The Roots and Evolution of Mass Incarceration
1. The War on Drugs
2. How Did We Get Here? From Black Codes to Neoslavery
3. Beyond Law and Order
4. Three Overlooked Pipelines: Mental Health, Private Prisons, and Immigration
5. The School-to-Prison Pipeline

Part II: The Church's Witness and Testimony
6. Protestant Reformers: Prophetic Activism, Nonviolence, and God’s Wrath
7. The Prisoner's Pastor: Chaplaincy and Theology's Institutional Impact
8. The Spirit of Punishment: Atonement, Penal Substitution, and the Wrath of God
9. Atonement and Sanctifying Retribution
10. Divine Justice Is Inherently Restorative
11. Holy Interruptions: Dismantling Mass Incarceration
Acknowledgments
Notes
Bibliography
Index

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Dominique DuBois Gilliard is the director of racial righteousness and reconciliation for the Love Mercy Do Justice (LMDJ) initiative of the Evangelical Covenant Church (ECC). He serves on the board of directors for the Christian Community Development Association and Evangelicals for Justice. In 2015, he was selected as one of the ECC’s “40 Under 40” leaders to watch, and the Huffington Post named him one of the “Black Christian Leaders Changing the World.”

An ordained minister, Gilliard has served in pastoral ministry in Atlanta, Chicago, and Oakland. He was executive pastor of New Hope Covenant Church in Oakland, California and also served in Oakland as the associate pastor of Convergence Covenant Church. He was also the campus minister at North Park University and the racial righteousness director for ECC’s ministry initiatives in the Pacific Southwest Conference.

With articles published in the CCDA Theology Journal, The Covenant Quarterly, and Sojourners, Gilliard has also blogged for Christianity Today, Faith & LeadershipRed Letter Christians, Do Justice, and The Junia Project. He earned a bachelor’s degree in African American Studies from Georgia State University and a master’s degree in history from East Tennessee State University, with an emphasis on race, gender, and class in the United States. He also earned an MDiv from North Park Seminary, where he served as an adjunct professor teaching Christian ethics, theology, and reconciliation.

BY Dominique DuBois Gilliard

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