Friday, April 03, 2009

WE must reform the criminal justice system

Criminal Justice Reform Faith Letter

The undersigned faith organizations are committed to reforming the criminal justice system in the United States. We represent millions of Americans, many of whom provide pastoral care for prisoners while they are incarcerated, 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. Thus, our organizations have a vested interest in the state of the criminal justice system and are mobilized to advocate and work for common sense reforms.With a new Administration and Congress we hope that the needed reforms in the criminal justice system will be implemented in a bipartisan fashion. The past approach by Congress to “get tough on crime” has given rise to policies which led to a ballooning of the prison population and has often averted our focus from effective solutions for our communities. These policies forced the states to place their most intense focus on building prisons, which subsequently diverted their attention away from effective solutions that result in safer communities. This explains why we have a 68% national recidivism rate.

Our purpose is to work with Congress to pass criminal justice reforms that refocus our energy and efforts on prevention, treatment and rehabilitation programs, increase public safety, strengthen families, and reduce the enormous social and economic costs of maintaining such a large prison population.

Current get-tough approaches have not enhanced public safety, but instead, have exacerbated problems for communities. The number of those imprisoned exceeds two million, one in every hundred adults. And 1.7 million children 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 less and less resources to manage the bulging system. The lack of education and rehabilitation breeds antagonism which negatively affects the incarcerated and the prison staff as well. Studies indicate that prison guards suffer from a much higher rate of suicide, drug and alcohol abuse, mental illness as well as domestic violence. We believe that reforms are needed not just to protect the rights of the imprisoned but to protect corrections staff as well.

With serious effort and necessary leadership and vision, this situation can be effectively addressed. Reform based on a holistic approach will protect the human rights and basic dignity of the imprisoned, 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:

• 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 and personal responsibility and accountability for those responsible for committing acts of crime;
• Education and meaningful work as a basis for 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;
• Respect for the integrity, safety, and rights of the imprisoned.

The reforms we call for will require sustained effort and leadership, and we look forward to working with you to make them a reality.

Signed: Hasan Hakeem, Chaplain, Kenosha County, WI Correctional Department

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