WASHINGTON--Christian leaders, representing a broad coalition of Christian churches and denominations in the United States, voiced their united opposition to mass incarceration, February 7. Mass Incarceration was the topic of the 2014 annual meeting of Christian Churches Together (CCT), in Newark, February 4-7. USCCB has taken part in CCT since 2004.
"As followers of Jesus Christ, we believe in the redemption and reconciliation of all things, rather than retribution," the leaders wrote. "This includes the prisoner and broken systems. This is the essence of the gospel."
Bishop Denis Madden, auxiliary bishop of Baltimore and chairman of the U.S. bishops' Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, attended on behalf of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). Bishop Tod Brown, retired bishop of Orange, California, Bishop Joe Vasquez of Austin, Texas, and Bishop Nicholas Samra of the Melkite Eparchy of Newton, Massachusetts, also attended, along with USCCB staff.
The United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world. The Bureau of Justice Statistics reported that 2,266,832 people were in prison in the United States in 2010.
The CCT leaders said that in discussing mass incarceration they were struck that, "Jesus loves the prisoner and he was one." They added that the United States is burdened by its past treatment of racial minorities, particularly African Americans, that the justice systems disproportionately impacts the poor, marginalized and immigrants, and that the system seems to have lost hope in true correction and rehabilitation.
For the past six years, CCT has taken action on issues of poverty, racial justice, and immigration reform.
CCT is encouraging its member denominations and organizations to increase awareness, educate and take action to oppose mass incarceration. In addition, CCT committed to developing guiding principles for the Church in its efforts.
The full statement is posted on the website of Christian Churches Together.
In their 2000 statement, "Responsibility, Rehabilitation, and Restoration: A Catholic Perspective On Crime And Criminal Justice" the U.S. bishops said they "seek approaches that understand crime as a threat to community, not just a violation of law; that demand new efforts to rebuild lives, not just build more prisons; and that demonstrate a commitment to re-weave a broader social fabric of respect for life, civility, responsibility, and reconciliation." The full statement is available online.