Faith Organizations Come Out Against Mass Incarceration, February 2011

Criminal Justice Reform Faith Letter
The undersigned faith organizations are committed to ending mass incarceration in the United States. Our intent is to work with Congress to pass criminal justice reforms that refocus our energy and efforts on the restoration of individuals, families, and communities affected by crime through prevention, treatment and rehabilitation programs, and appropriate accountability. This focus will increase public safety, strengthen families, and reduce the enormous social and economic costs of maintaining such a large prison population.
We represent millions of Americans, many of whom provide pastoral care for prisoners while they are incarcerated, provide direct services for those reentering society after incarceration, and sponsor various drug and crime prevention services and programs for our constituencies and the community at large. These ministries often exist because of many congregations which are made up of in part or entirely by individuals impacted by the criminal justice system, whether they are formerly incarcerated individuals, victims of crime, or impacted family members. Thus, our organizations have a direct interest in the state of the criminal justice system and are mobilized to advocate and work for common sense reforms . . .

With a new Congress we hope that the needed reforms in the criminal justice system will be implemented in a bipartisan fashion. The “get tough” approach to crime has given rise to policies which have created an unsustainably large prison population, and diverted our attention from alternative policies that have the potential to reduce crime in a safe, cost-effective manner ? without the need for mass imprisonment. Our prisons are too large, too expensive, and conditions in them (due in part to over-crowding) are such that they are one of the factors that lead to a 68% national recidivism rate ? a rate far higher than comparable nations.
Unfortunately, current get-tough approaches have often exacerbated problems for local communities and not enhanced public safety. The number of those imprisoned exceeds two million, one in every hundred adults contributing to the 1.7 million children who have a parent in prison. Moreover, racial injustice has been intensified, as one in every eight Black males in their twenties is currently incarcerated. Prison conditions have become harsher with fewer resources to manage the bulging system. Abuse of prisoners is becoming more widespread and has had negative effects on both the prison environment and rates of recidivism. The lack of education and rehabilitation provokes antagonism that negatively affects both incarcerated persons and the prison staff. Studies indicate that prison guards suffer from a high rate of suicide, drug and alcohol abuse, mental illness, and domestic violence. Reforms are needed to protect the rights of the imprisoned, corrections staff, victims of crime and affected families and communities.
With serious effort, and necessary leadership and vision, the status quo can be dramatically improved. Holistic and evidence-based reform will protect the human rights and basic dignity of incarcerated men, women, and youth, maintain the mental health of corrections staff, and increase public safety for all of society. The faith organizations endorsing this letter believe there are common values that can effectively bring about these necessary reforms. These values include:
* Restoration of impacted communities, victims of crime, the families of the incarcerated and those currently and formerly imprisoned;
* A greater emphasis on prevention as a way to reduce drug abuse and crime and thereby establish safer communities;
* Healing for the victims of crime;
* Personal responsibility and accountability for those responsible for committing acts of crime;
* Education and meaningful work as a basis for self respect and morale, and as preparation for those who are incarcerated to become self-sufficient, contributing members of their communities when they are released;
* Compassion for all people coming out of prison who should be given a second chance so that their families and communities will be strengthened;
* Equality for racial minorities that have been unfairly targeted through racial profiling and sentencing disparities, as well as access to quality defense counsel;
* Respect for the integrity, safety, and rights of the imprisoned. Prisoners should not be held in prolonged isolation, they should not be abused, and they should have the ability to practice their faith.
The reforms we call for will require sustained effort and leadership, and we look forward to working with you to make them a reality.
Supporting Organizations
* American Baptist Home Mission Societies
* Disciples Justice Action Network
* The Episcopal Church
* Friends Committee on National Legislation
* Mennonite Central Committee, Washington Office
* National Advocacy Center of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd
* National Alliance of Faith and Justice
* NETWORK, A National Catholic Social Justice Lobby
* Sojourners
* United Methodist Church, General Board of Church and Society
To sign-on to the faith letter, please click here.