WASHINGTON--The Smarter Sentencing Act (S. 1410) is a "modest first step in reforming our nation's broken sentencing policies," said the chair of the U.S. bishops' Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development and the president of Catholic Charities USA in a March 27 letter to the U.S. Senate supporting the bill.
Archbishop Thomas G. Wenski of Miami and Father Larry Snyder called "one-size-fits-all" sentencing policies "inadequate in addressing the complexities of crime and community safety." They urged the Senate to vote for the bill that, "though imperfect," would expand options for judges handing down sentences for non-violent drug offenses and allow for reduced mandatory minimum sentences in certain circumstances.
"Rigid sentencing policies for non-violent offenses are costly, ineffective and can be detrimental to the good of persons, families, and communities," wrote Archbishop Wenski and Father Snyder. "Prolonged incarceration often contributes to family instability and poverty. Those who finally leave incarceration face significant challenges upon reentering society, such as finding housing and stable employment, high rates of substance abuse, and physical and mental health challenges."
They noted that the United States imprisons more people than any other nation and that the overall incarceration rate has increased 500 percent during the past 30 years. They also called the addition of three new categories of mandatory minimums in the amended bill "counterproductive."
Archbishop Wenski and Father Snyder reiterated Catholic social teaching that the justice system should promote healing and restoration, rather than merely punishment, and echoed the words of Pope Francis that "God is in everyone's life," even those "destroyed by vices, drugs or anything else."
"We continue to urge that instead of directing a vast amount of public resources to imprison more people and build more prisons and jails, the government should support effective programs aimed at crime prevention, rehabilitation, education efforts, substance abuse treatment, as well as programs of probation, parole and reintegration," they wrote.
Full text of the letter is available online