All societies need to protect innocent people from those who seek to do them harm. This usually means a legal system with prison as a punishment. When justice is practised fairly, this system can be an effective way of protecting ordinary people from harm. However, it can be abused in a number of ways.

Someone accused of a crime should not be imprisoned unless there is enough evidence. Witness evidence or other kinds of proof are required and the matter should be brought before an independent court. Anyone accused of a crime should be considered innocent until they are proved guilty in a court of law. However, poor people may have no access to legal representation in court.

People may be falsely accused of crimes and be unable to defend themselves. Prison can be used as a way of silencing people with opposing political, social or religious views (often called prisoners of conscience). Courts may not always uphold justice if officials are open to bribery. Sentences may be unfairly long and, once in prison, prisoners can be forgotten by officials and remain there for many years.

In an ideal situation, prison can provide a time to reflect, a time to learn new skills and ways of thinking so that prisoners can change their lives for the better. In the Bible we are told to visit those in prison. This would encourage prisoners and help to ensure they are well treated.

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