Faith-Based Criminal Justice

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Every life-threatening situation requires a unique response. For Ashley Smith, a widow and mother, her capture by a runaway killer on Saturday called for her to share with her assailant how she serves God by serving others.

Ms. Smith was held in her apartment by Brian Nichols for more than seven hours - first at gunpoint, then briefly gagged - after he fled from a shooting rampage in Atlanta that left four people dead. He had escaped from a courtroom where he was being tried for rape.

After Smith talked to him about her concern for her daughter and her personal journey to find a spiritual purpose in life, Mr. Nichols gave himself up to police. Like the biblical tale of Daniel in the lion's den, she was fearless in finding a way out of danger by seeing him as someone who could transform himself from a life of crime. She used neither gun nor guile to win both her freedom and, in a way, his.

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She herself had found comfort in the Bible after her husband was killed in a knife fight four years ago.

Smith read biblical passages to Nichols, as well as parts from a Christian book, "The Purpose-Driven Life." "I told him I was a child of God and that I wanted to do God's will. I guess he began to want to," she said later.

Such incidents of applying spiritual solutions to criminal behavior often happen to inmates. Prison officials encourage that. But this faithful woman shows that even during a crime, criminals can sometimes be talked down by appealing to their spiritual sense.

It's another lesson to be taught in police academies. And perhaps TV law dramas might take a cue, too.

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