Restorative justice is one of those advocacy issues upon which most Vincentians can agree.
One reason is that the sacrament of Reconciliation, unique to our Catholic faith, inspires us with the knowledge that the grace of forgiveness is available to us once we have confessed our sins. Another reason for Vincentian support of restorative justice is that we see the role that the crime, prison, and retaliation play in causing poverty. We have all probably met individuals who are having difficulty getting back on their feet because they have a past crime on their record that is keeping them from getting public aid or a job.
Restorative justice has grown out of Catholic social thought, which is the church’s teaching about how we deal with societal topics. In their 2000 document, “Responsibility, Rehabilitation, and Restoration: A Catholic Perspective on Crime and Criminal Justice,” the U.S. Bishops outline how our criminal justice system fails the victim, the criminal, and the community.
“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 it effectively so that it no longer does harm and, at the same time, to offer those who commit crimes a way of redeeming themselves and making a positive return to society.” Pope St. John Paul II
In its 2006 position paper on the topic, the SVdP National Council said, “Through prayer and careful reflection on the current broken state of the U.S. criminal justice system, Vincentians guided by the legacy of Frederic Ozanam, should begin to see their role as change agents and implementers of restorative gospel values.”
The national Voice of the Poor committee is urging Vincentians to write or visit their U.S. Representatives and Senators to urge support of two bills: The Smarter Sentencing Act (S. 1410) and the Second Chance Act (S. 1690). If you are subscribed to CapWiz, our national alert system (sign up at www.capwiz.com/svdpusa/mlm/ signup/), you should have received an alert a few weeks ago with talking points and a suggested letter.
Some of the facts of the issue are:
• The United States imprisons more people than any other country in the world
• About two-thirds of people incarcerated are serving time for non-violent offenses
• This leaves 1 in every 28 children with at least one parent incarcerated
• Returning citizens return to their community facing housing and employment barriers
• Incarceration is responsible for 20% of our nation’s poverty (http://ssrn.com/abstract=1348049 )
You don’t have to be a political news junkie to know that congress is dysfunctional right now. So why, in this time of political gridlock, should we bother to reach out to our members of congress to appeal for their support?
We advocate now for several reasons:
- Our faith and our ministry instructs us to stand up for those whose voices are not heard in our society
- To develop a relationship with our elected officials
- As a means of evangelization
- Our hope is to change the current state of affairs, if not now, then in the near future
Success is not impossible.
Listen to the story that was recently broadcast on National Public Radio: http://www.npr.org/2014/08/07/338498177/politicaladversaries-work-to-reduce-alabama-s-prisonpopulation
With hope and faith that the Holy Spirit will guide us as we work to become an effective Voice of the Poor.