A broad and diverse coalition that includes the Southern Baptist Convention’s ethics entity is pushing reforms in America’s justice system to foster the rehabilitation and societal re-entry of prisoners.
Prison Fellowship, the well-known Christian ministry to prisoners and their families, has spearheaded the effort in April through its Second Chance Month initiative. President Trump issued a proclamation declaring April as Second Chance Month, and the U.S. Senate approved a resolution to the same effect.
The Prison Fellowship-led effort — with the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) one of the more than 150 partners — seeks to reform policies and programs to help prisoners become rehabilitated, restored and prepared for re-entry into society, while assuring public safety. Many of the partners are not religious, but many are motivated by their Christian worldview.
“There is no doubt that crime is a moral issue,” ERLC President Russell Moore told Baptist Press in written comments. “Our response to crime, however, is no less a moral issue.
“It is precisely because the church cares about justice that followers of Jesus should work toward a criminal justice system that metes out judgment for the purpose of restoration and rehabilitation,” he said.
Advocates for justice reform point to statistics they say demonstrate the need for change in what is described as the world’s most incarcerated country. According to Prison Fellowship:
— About 65 million Americans, or one-fourth of the adult population, have a criminal record.
— 2.2 million men and women are incarcerated in the United States.
— Nearly 700,000 prisoners return to their communities each year.
— Two-thirds of prisoners who are released are arrested again.
— 2.7 million children have a parent in prison.
— More than 48,000 legal barriers confront former prisoners seeking “second chances.”
“Thus, it is smart on crime for us to implement a restorative approach to criminal justice with an eye towards [people] returning to our communities who are healthier and more productive than they were when they went to prison in the first place,” said Prison Fellowship President James Ackerman in a March 19 forum at the Museum of the Bible in Washington.
Prisoners need “a second chance” to step into a purpose and a plan God has for their lives, he said.
Mark Holden, senior vice president and general counsel of Koch Industries, told the audience during the forum’s panel discussion, “Ideally, our justice system should be less about punishment and incapacitation and much more about reformation, rehabilitation and redemption. Our criminal justice system, unfortunately, fails to provide opportunities for redemption for many of those who have paid their debt in full to society and are hungry for and have earned and deserve a second chance.”
Rep. Tony Cardenas, D-Calif., said during the discussion, “[We] have swung the pendulum way too far, assuming that people don’t deserve second chances.
“The bar has been set very, very low in this country about what’s right and what’s wrong about whether we are going to be a restorative country or we’re going to be punitive,” he said.
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Source: Baptist Press