For too long our system of mass incarceration has decimated communities and perpetuated systemic racism in the United States. The structures may morph - slavery becomes Jim Crow becomes the cradle-to-prison pipeline – but they are resilient. The way we are doing things is not working and our criminal justice system is essentially a perpetual motion machine of injustice. Our Thirtieth General Synod recognized this when it identified mass incarceration as a critical human and civil rights issue in the U.S. due to its disparate impact on people of color, youth, people with mental illness, and people with limited resources.
As people of faith we are called to unravel the tangled web of systems that keep people, and especially people of color, in prison.
Congress has an opportunity to enact sentencing and corrections reform this term. Passage of the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act (H.R. 3356) and the Second Chance Reauthorization Act (H.R. 2899), and the corresponding combined legislation in the Senate (S.1917), is a critical move toward a criminal justice system that is less focused on retribution and more focused on restoration. The legislation would give judges the discretion to reduce some sentences to more appropriate lengths, as well as providing more robust opportunities for people after incarceration. These reforms will not fix the system, but they are an important step.
Mass incarceration is one of the most pressing civil right issues of our day. As we commemorate the 50th anniversary of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s assassination this year, let us work together to overhaul the justice system such that the end goal is not primarily punishment, but rather reconciliation, restoration and rehabilitation. Act now. Call on Congress to undo the harm that mass incarceration has inflicted on families, individuals and the country.