|Liberty and Justice For All
Criminal justice broadly is multi-dimensional. For some, it is difficult to grasp the fact
that this issue touches all people. However, when the lens is focused on those
incarcerated individuals, the returning citizens and their families it becomes
clear the impact that this challenge has on the whole of society. Daily, our world suffers great loss because
of the 7.3 million people who are involved with and caught up in the criminal
justice system. To compound this scenario even more, of those
citizens who are a part of the ‘system’, 3.7 million are parents.
Christopher Mumola, of the Bureau of Justice Statistics-US Department of
Justice, states that 1.5 million imprisoned individuals are adults within a state or
federal prison system and 700,000 are parents of minor children. These people are talented human beings, locked
up and locked out of making substantive contributions to society. The ‘what if’ question looms large when
reflecting on what could have been and what ideas, inventions, books, art and
music might have been deposited into society if those behind bars were free,
contributing members of society.
national statistics, 59 percent of these children are under the age of ten.
Most of these children grow up without the benefits that come from the guidance
of a reliable adult in their lives. In fact, a U.S. Senate report indicates
that without appropriate modeling from a responsible adult, these children are
six times more likely than other children to become delinquent and experience
incarceration at some point in their lives.
The system that oversees the criminal processing of people and the
implementation of policy and programs is indeed a comprehensive matrix. Recent
statistics suggest that more than two million children and youth in the United States
have at least one parent in a federal or state correctional facility. Not only
does exposure to the ‘system’ cause disruptions in the parent-child
relationship, but often children, extended family and the taxpaying citizenry
struggle with the economic, social, and emotional burdens of the incarceration. Unfortunately however, many believe that the
justice system only affects certain people like the poor, delinquent youth, and
those already existing behind the walls.
To be sure, though there is proof of disparate minority confinement,
when it comes to the residual effects of the system – it is clear that the
system itself is a problematic, a pervasive institution that impacts every
social and cultural arena---it permeates a trinity of factors that include the
political, economical, and even the socio-cultural.
In the same way, the prison industrial complex transcends the incarcerated
individual and affects the whole of society mentally, emotionally, spiritually,
psychologically, politically and economically. It subsequently destroys the
innocent and the personhood of those incarcerated and devastates families and
communities because of the absent parent and the fact that returning citizens
are going back into a necropolis of hopelessness, helplessness that is
economically bankrupt. This is a
tempting environment one that lures returning citizens to recidivate and begin
the cycle again.
Experts suggest that there is enormous ‘collateral damage’ caused by insufficient funding, poorly trained correctional officers, and
deficient rehabilitation and restoration programs and services that do not
support the incarcerated individual and their family. As Mumia Abu-Jamal muses in Live from Death
Row, “What societal interest is served by prisoners who remain illiterate? What
social benefit is there in ignorance?
How are people corrected while imprisoned if their education is
outlawed? Who profits from stupid prisoners?”In
many ways the dismantling of the educational programs and physical fitness
resources that once saturated the system.
The need for system reform,
rehabilitation for incarcerated and returning citizens along with the scarcity
in services and programs systematically rapes and victimizes the hopeless
offender, tears families apart, concretizes stigmas about incarcerated people
and their families, creates schisms, cultivates unethical and immoral
treatment, and causes humanity to have a biased perception focused solely on
punitive measures as opposed to restorative approaches and holistic solutions
that lead to healing and reconciliation.
In order to
address the deficiency throughout the system and to respond to the cleavage
that exists what follows is a proposal that expands upon Mark Hicks’
recommendations to congregations and communities to be present and get involved.
Hicks suggests that churches should “engage inmates, chaplains, correctional
officials families and others” during and after incarceration and release to
serve as a support system to individuals as well as the criminal justice system
and its components parts. In this way the pastor, people and community
stand in solidarity working to educate, advocate/act, mentor, counsel, and
recommend improvements through systems reform strategies and legislative proposals.
Hamlets of Hope invites churches and faith organizations to include the following into their ministry menu and will work to design a visitation, prisoner re-entry and mentoring ministry for children and families experiencing incarceration. The following represent some possible restorative justice ministry tools.
- Restorative Justice Sunday
- Mentoring Ministry
- Connections-Literacy for Families impacted by the Criminal Justice System
- RJS-Restorative Justice Simulator
- Healing Communities-Dr. H. Dean Trulear & Pastor Sonia L. King
Christopher, J. (2002), “Incarcerated
Parents and Their Children.” Presentation at the National Center
for Children and Families 10/31/02
Mumola, Incarcerated Parents and Their Children, Bureau of Justice
Statistics Special Report NCJ 182335
(Washington, DC: U.S. Department
of Justice, 2000).
Children of Prisoners
of Health and Human Services, FYSB-Family Youth Services Bureau-Mentoring
Children of Prisoners
Damien, L. Contributing Writer, Neighborhood
February 25, 2011
Davis, Angela Y., Are Prisons Obsolete, p.55
Open Media – Seven Stories Press, New York 2003 referencing Mumia Abu –Jamal,
Live from Death Row [New York: Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, 1995], pp.
M., Hicks, M., and Stoglin, R. I Was In Prison: United Methodist Perspectives
on Prison Ministry P. 54