May 24, 2019

Corrections Corner / Nancy Audretch

Strengthen family life, society through criminal justice reform

Nancy AudretchThe Catholic Church teaches that human life is sacred, and that each of us has an inherent dignity. It also teaches that our laws and policies, economics and politics directly affect human dignity. Whatever our national, racial, ethnic, economic and ideological differences, we are one human family. Every person is precious and has a fundamental right to those things required for human decency.

Peter K. Enns published The Incarceration Nation in 2016. In it, he wrote of the rise of mass incarceration in the United States, and how that development has resulted in one of the most critical outcomes of the last half-century.

As of 2018, the United States incarcerated 2.3 million people in state and federal facilities. We lock up more people, per capita, than any other nation. This number has risen dramatically from 250,000 in 1972.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) interviewed Catholics involved in every aspect of the criminal justice system. They all agreed on one thing: the criminal justice system is broken. You and I need to help repair it.

The First Step Act passed by Congress in December aims to reform the federal prison system and reduce recidivism. But it is just a beginning and is not nearly enough relief to help our prisoners. The USCCB and Catholic Charities USA acknowledge that the First Step Act is just a beginning in the important process to reform our broken criminal justice system.

The cost of incarcerating so many individuals is a huge drain on federal, state and local resources. We can do better as U.S. citizens. We can strengthen family life and society through criminal justice reforms.

We can also strengthen communities through our efforts for decent housing, health care and nutrition, and protection from abuse and neglect which can be steppingstones on a path to crime if not addressed. We are grateful that so many Catholics participate in advocacy efforts, pastoral care and charity.

St. John Paul II said: “We are still a long way from the time when our conscience can be certain of having done everything possible to prevent crime and to control crime effectively so that it no longer does harm and, at the same time, to offer to those who commit crimes a way of redeeming themselves and making a positive return to society. If all those in some way involved in the problem tried to develop this line of thought, perhaps humanity could take a great step forward in creating a more serene and peaceful society.”

We can help prevent crime by building community. We can teach our youths right from wrong, address anger management and conflict resolution, and help them learn about self-esteem based on God, their Creator. We can help create a more serene and peaceful society. We are challenged every day by Christ’s example to serve the poor and vulnerable.

(Nancy Audretch is a member of the archdiocesan Corrections Advisory Committee.)

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