Glenn Loury
The Glenn Show
Matthew Martens – A Christian Case for Criminal Justice Reform

Matthew Martens – A Christian Case for Criminal Justice Reform


My guest this week is the lawyer and author Matthew Martens. Matthew is a former prosecutor and now a partner at WilmerHale law firm in Washington, D.C. His conservative politics and Christian beliefs have led him to construct a moral critique of the criminal justice system, which he sets down in his book Reforming Criminal Justice: A Christian Proposal. Matthew argues that criminal justice as it’s currently practiced in the US too often violates both Christian teaching and the constitution, placing justice and mercy out of reach for both victims and perpetrators.

We begin with a discussion of the place of Christian love in a system designed, in part, to punish people. He asks whether we can square the teachings of Christ with tools like three-strikes laws that can require decades-long sentences for nonviolent offenses. Matthew rejects the idea that secular government requires that individuals put aside their faith in public matters—voting and debate, he argues, allow individuals to maintain their principles without forcing them on others. In his view, the present criminal justice system provides too much power and not enough accountability to prosecutors—there are virtually no disincentives for prosecutorial misconduct. We go on to discuss racial disparities in death sentences, violations of the Sixth Amendment in bail denial, and the over-reliance on plea deals. And finally, Matthew tells me what ordinary people can do to help reform the system.

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0:00 Matthew’s theological perspective on criminal justice

5:28 Loving the criminal offender

8:10 25 years for an ounce-and-a-half of marijuana?

14:59 Christianity and the legal use of force

20:39 Matthew: I cannot enter the public square without considering my faith

24:48 Determining justice in a fallen world

29:35 What’s wrong with criminal justice today?

31:48 The problem of prosecutorial immunity

38:43 Matthew’s take on George Floyd

43:16 Has the criminal justice system truly reformed itself on race matters?

50:00 The denial of bail and the denial of justice

56:37 Matthew: We don’t have quick, accurate, reliable verdicts

1:02:41 Why Matthew opposes the death penalty “as currently practiced in the United States”

1:08:21 How ordinary Americans can help

Recorded February 28, 2024

Links and Readings

Matthew’s book, Reforming Criminal Justice: A Christian Proposal

Richard John Neuhaus’s book, The Naked Public Square: Religion and Democracy in America

Philip Gorski, American Covenant: A History of Civil Religion from the Puritans to the Present

National Register of Exonerations

St. Irenaeus’s Against Heresies

Kellen Funk and Sandra Mayson’s Harvard Law Review article, “Bail at the Founding”


Glenn Loury
The Glenn Show
Race, inequality, and economics in the US and throughout the world from Glenn Loury, Professor of Economics at Brown University and Paulson Senior Fellow at the Manhattan Institute