For years, the Society has taken a strong position on Restorative Justice. The National Board of Director formalized our position in 2006, with a paper released by Joe Flannigan, the national president at that time. The position statement, consistent with Catholic teaching, highlights the fundamental principles of Restorative Justice, which fully recognize the rights and concerns of the victims, ensure the accountability of the offenders, while suggesting to preserve the dignity of everyone by offering to those offenders, who cooperate, a chance at re-habilitation and re-integration into society. The position statement is available at:
Except for limited local initiatives, for a long time there have been little opportunity to make positive changes in this area.
Currently, however, there are a couple of bills in Congress, which could make a difference:
- The Smarter Sentencing Act (S.1410) is a modest first step in reforming the nation’s broken sentencing, especially the one-size-fits-all policies, such as mandatory minimums.
- The Second Chance Act (S.1690/HR3465) would address some of the issues facing the more than 650,000 men, women and juveniles who reenter society each year from federal and state prisons, in addition to those from local detention centers.
Our Catholic tradition supports the community's right to establish and enforce laws that protect people and advance the common good. But our faith teaches us that both victims and offenders have a God-given dignity that calls for justice and restoration, not vengeance. The bishops of the United States, in their 2000 pastoral statement, Responsibility, Rehabilitation, and Restoration: A Catholic Perspective on Crime and Criminal Justice, stated, “Just as God never abandons us, so too we must be in covenant with one another. We are all sinners, and our response to sin and failure should not be abandonment and despair, but rather justice, contrition, reparation, and return or re-integration of all into the community.”
The U.S. criminal justice system is the largest in the world and imprisons more people than that of any other nation. Although national incarceration rates have dropped the last three consecutive years, the overall incarceration rate has increased 500 percent during the past thirty years. As of 2011, approximately 7 million people were under some form of correctional control in the United States with close to 2.2 million people incarcerated in federal, state, or local prisons and jails.
We do not know when Congress might start examining these bills. Please be ready to support them, when the Society or the USCCB issues Action Alerts.