Moving People of Faith from the Pulpit and Pew to the Pavement
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. According to 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
Connections-Literacy for Families impacted by the Criminal Justice System
RJS-Restorative Justice Simulator
Healing Communities-Dr. H. Dean Trulear & Pastor Sonia L. King
Mumola, Christopher, J. (2002), “Incarcerated Parents and Their Children.” Presentation at the National Center for Children and Families 10/31/02 Christopher J. Mumola, Incarcerated Parents and Their Children, Bureau of Justice Statistics Special Report NCJ 182335 (Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, 2000). Mentoring Children of Prisoners US Department of Health and Human Services, FYSB-Family Youth Services Bureau-Mentoring Children of Prisoners Winter, Damien, L. Contributing Writer, Neighborhood Voice-http://www.neighborhood-voice.com/community-news/collateral-damage-children-with-incarcerated-parents/ 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. 65-67. Shopshire, J. M., Hicks, M., and Stoglin, R. I Was In Prison: United Methodist Perspectives on Prison Ministry P. 54