This announcement was published today from The Campaign For The Fair Sentencing of Youth, which supports the posting I sent out yesterday. Leaders are standing in defense of juvenile justice reform. Now we must enact the laws to change these harsh practices. In this process we must not forget the thousands of juveniles who are currently serving egregious sentences in adult prisons across America. What about them? What are we going to do about their sentences and are we prepared to house them in our prisons for their natural life? Wouldn't it be more responsible to hold them accountable and cause them to return to our communities where they can contribute and bring restoration for the harm done? We have Supreme Court Rulings, medical evidence, behavioral evidence and support from community leaders.....yet they are still in prison. Isn't it time we acted and changed the course of this? Read on......
Catholic Bishops join in call for end to JLWOP
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops today announced that it has endorsed the principles of the Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth. The USCCB is " is an assembly of the hierarchy of the United States and the U.S. Virgin Islands who jointly exercise certain pastoral functions on behalf of the Christian faithful of the United States." It is comprised of 454 active and retired Catholic bishops who lead Dioceses and Archdioceses throughout the country.
The full text of the news release follows.
DATE: January 30, 2013
FROM: Don Clemmer
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
BISHOPS' COMMITTEE JOINS CALL TO END LIFE SENTENCES WITHOUT PAROLE FOR CHILDREN
WASHINGTON - A committee of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has endorsed the principles of a national campaign to end the practice of sentencing people under the age of 18 to life in prison without the possibility of parole. The USCCB Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development agreed to endorse the Statement of Principles for the Fair Sentencing of Youth at their December 2012 meeting.
"While there is no question that violent and dangerous youth need to be confined for their safety and that of society, the USCCB does not support provisions that treat children as though they are equal to adults in their moral and cognitive development," said Bishop Stephen E. Blaire of Stockton, California, chairman of the committee. "Life sentences without parole eliminate the opportunity for rehabilitation or second chances."
In their 2000 document, "Responsibility, Rehabilitation, and Restoration: A Catholic Perspective on Crime and Criminal Justice," the bishops wrote, "Placing children in adult jail is a sign of failure, not a solution."
More than 100 organizations have endorsed the Statement of Principles of the Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth, including a diverse array of faith-based organizations such as the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, the General Synod of the United Church of Christ, the United Methodist Church, the Muslim Public Affairs Council and the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs. Supporters also include groups representing law enforcement officials, victims' families, mental health experts, parents, teachers and child welfare advocates.
"We welcome the opportunity to partner with USCCB, a national leader defending the rights of our most vulnerable," said Jody Kent Lavy, director of the Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth. "We support the Church's efforts to promote the greater good by ensuring that children are held accountable for the harm that they have caused in age-appropriate ways that uphold their human dignity and focus on rehabilitation and reintegration into society."
The federal government and 38 states allow youth convicted of a crime to be sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. Currently, over 2,500 youth are serving life sentences without the possibility of parole. African American youth are sentenced to life without parole as children at a per capita rate that is 10 times that of white youth convicted of the same crimes. The United States is the only country that imposes this sentence upon children.
Many of you who follow this blog may not be aware that I am a leader in the faith community. As a matter of fact, it would surprise you to know that I am a conservative, Messianic leader who came from the evangelistic community in which I was raised. The reason that I believe this would surprise most of you is because of the strong opposition for sentencing reform and prison reform from the conservative and religious community and the stand for tough on crime policies. I am happy to report that there is growing support among religious communities for prison reform issues and conditions of confinement as well as strong support for sentencing reform measures and restorative justice. Our society condemns offenders for their life, even after they have concluded their extremely punitive sentences and returned to our communities. Their mistakes are held over their heads for all time and with every step forward, someone is there to quickly remind them of the brutality of their offenses. This goes against every moral and spiritual teaching that we, as leaders, bring forth to our fellowships and we must stand for change.
Organizations like National Religious Campaign Against Torture , Justice Fellowship, T'Ruah (Rabbinic Call For Human Rights) and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, are taking a moral stand for victims, offenders and the restoration of communities. Not because of political policies, advocacy organizations or economic pressure but because it is the right thing to do. Because they believe and follow their moral and spiritual obligations. Because they believe in repentance and restoration. Here is a good example from the USCCB:
"In some ways, an approach to criminal justice that is inspired by a Catholic vision is a paradox. We cannot and will not tolerate behavior that threatens lives and violates the rights of others. We believe in responsibility, accountability, and legitimate punishment. Those who harm others or damage property must be held accountable for the hurt they have caused. The community has a right to establish and enforce laws to protect people and to advance the common good.
At the same time, a Catholic approach does not give up on those who violate these laws. We believe that both victims and offenders are children of God. Despite their very different claims on society, their lives and dignity should be protected and respected. We seek justice, not vengeance. We believe punishment must have clear purposes: protecting society and rehabilitating those who violate the law." AND "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 reintegration of all into the community."
Our current justice and prison practices do nothing to bring healing and restoration to personal lives, families or communities. We are eager to condemn and discard those who offend us, have opposing views, harm us or frighten us. We have also abandoned the most basic of instruction concerning everyone in our charge, respect and responsibility for human life.
The question I am asked most often is, "What about eye for an eye? You cannot call yourself a Christian if you do not believe they (the offender) has to pay for their crime." This bible quotation has been misused for a long time. In order to understand the concept and the interpretation you must first understand Hebraic law and customs. It is also important to understand Torah and the original intention of G-d. Throughout the history of the followers of G-d, His people have been rebellious, evil, immoral and deceitful. Many times G-d sent messengers to His people to warn them of their evil ways and the consequences of their rebellion. All that G-d sought was repentance and for His people to turn from their wickedness back to Him. Did G-d discipline? YES! Did He instruct? YES! Did He condemn? YES! However, G-d's condemnation came harshly to those who sought to destroy His people, for those who repented of their evil ways and returned....G-d restored them to His community. The scripture that is quoted (in part) above continues with "But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you."
We are called to bring restoration to a lost and dying world. We are called to care for the poor, the widow and the fatherless. We are called to bring light and hope to the sinner and restoration to those who have fallen. We are called to bind up broken hearts and set captives free but the second greatest commandment is the most important. We are to love our neighbor as ourselves. That does not mean only the neighbors we like or the ones who are nice to us...it means all of them. Our current juvenile justice policies, criminal justice policies, restorative justice policies and incarceration policies do not reflect our moral or spiritual values. They are full of hatred, condemnation, brutality and a strong disregard for human life, a life created by G-d, in His image, for His purposes.
Our preoccupation should be with the restoration or our brother, the reparation of harm and the strength and health of communities. This cannot be done with the strong arm of justice, the condemnation and isolation of offenders in sub-cultures of decay or with windowless buildings surrounded by razor wire. We must find a better way for we will be called to account for the treatment of our brothers and the health of our communities one day and we will have no answer and no excuse.
“Sympathy for prisoners is not the most common sentiment amongst the American public. People do not want to be seen as weak or soft on crime,” said Rabbi Rachel Kahn-Troster, director of T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights. “In the Torah however, it clearly says that if someone asks for forgiveness three times and you don’t forgive them, then the onus is on you. In Judaism we believe in repentance and that punishments don’t go on forever.” from Companionship or Death a Solitary Watch article.
Support for criminal justice and prison reform is coming from a new direction....business owners and major employers. It shouldn't be surprising really as these leaders are use to dealing with the bottom line, productivity and ROI. It is easy for them to see that our tough on crime policies have not produced healthier communities and stability within their state governments.
Current criminal justice policies and correction policies do nothing to rehabilitate, reform or educate offenders so that they have a better chance at success in our communities. Our punitive processes and lack of programs only accomplish continued deterioration of our communities and states. We have to find a better way.
It is encouraging to see that those with a mind for business, community and state economic stability are realizing what advocates have been saying all along...it is time for a change. Follow the link to read the rest of the story.
“That’s great,” he said. “It’s a way to be smart on crime, to keep the people in prison who you’re afraid of, and not everyone else that we’re just mad at. They need to be put through programs that deal with their issues and get them back to work.” Big Business Enters Fray
With steady, firmly applied pressure, the advocacy world is beginning to see results in the battle against the over use of solitary confinement in this country. At the beginning of this year, TAMMS Supermax in Illionois closed it's doors forever! For the men who have been housed there, it is a sigh of relief and a breath of fresh air.....for the first time in many years.
(pic to the right: exercise cages for Tamms inmates)
The use of solitary confinement without the consideration of the lasting effects, the inhumanity is an argument that has been heard all the way to Washington DC. For the men and women held in these torturous conditions, it is a matter of life or death in slow motion. We are thankful for the tireless efforts of the organizations that fought to close this facility and we look forward to celebrating the closure of many more in the days ahead. Here is an excerpt from the article posted by Solitary Watch.
by Alan Mills, Legal Director of the Uptown People's Law Center, which played a pivotal role in opposing Tamms.
Put simply, men were sent to Tamms to disappear.
Tamms was sold to the public as necessary to control the “worst of the worst” prisoners in Illinois. Yet when it opened in 1998, the majority of prisoners had virtually no disciplinary history at all. Rather, Tamms was populated by men who had sued the Department, filed grievances, and otherwise complained about illegal conduct by prison officials—wardens were looking for a way to get rid of these headaches. Other men transferred to Tamms had long histories of mental illness—which had never been treated in prison. Many were sent to Tamms because someone had claimed, at some point in the past, that they were gang leaders—even though most had never been found guilty of any gang activity. When the Uptown People’s Law Center challenged the placement of our clients in Tamms, we were told that these men were not entitled to a hearing, and would not be told why they had been sent to Tamms.
Some of these men have spent the last 15 years in complete and total solitary confinement at Tamms.
Tamms officially closes its doors today, first and foremost because the men sent there did not disappear. Rather than buckle under the extreme psychological pressure of solitary confinement, they banded together, fought back, and reached out and educated and organized their families and friends.
Let me tell you how they did it.
Like other “supermax” facilities, Tamms was designed to ensure that prisoners could be housed in complete isolation—never coming in contact with another prisoner, and only rarely coming in contact with staff. There is no dining hall; there is no chapel; there is no library; there are no classrooms; there is no yard. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are brought to prisoners in their cells—passed through a slot in a steel door. Medical and mental health care is generally provided through the cell door—with no privacy, and minimal ability for medical professionals to examine or even conduct a meaningful conversation with the men they are supposed to be caring for. (click on Solitary Watch for the rest of the story).
There are many organizations in America working tirelessly to end torture, questionable interrogation practices and the death penalty. We, who advocate for juvenile justice reform, have heard and been witness too hair raising stories of treatment and conditions endured by kids. The fact remains that we house men and women for long periods of time in complete isolation. Torture! The fact remains that kids are interrogated for hours on end until they crack and tell investigators anything they want to hear just so the torture stops. Investigator's and District Attorney's threaten and intimidate individuals until they take a plea agreement irregardless of guilt or their own best interest. Torture!
As American's we have allowed propaganda to sway our better judgement. We have been told that "enhanced interrogation" methods are strategic and necessary in preventing evil from entering our boarders. We have been coerced into believing that giving up our personal freedoms and embracing government oversight through the Patriot Act is necessary. We have become desensitized to the realities of these treatments of men and women....unless it comes to your house and effects you personally.
Did you know that you can be detained without formal charges and with no time constraint for filing charges?
Did you know that you can be held in solitary confinement for an inordinate amount of time without justification or charges and with no way to challenge the system?
Did you know that your child can be interrogated without your presence or knowledge even though there are supposed to be laws in place to protect children?
Did you know that your child can be arrested and confined in an adult facility without your knowledge and before you are given the opportunity to find representative council for his/her protection?
Did you know that hundreds and even thousands of prisoners die in prison facilities every year from violence?
We must wake up and take back our freedom and our humanity!
The following is an excerpt from an article in the Huff Post, from a former CIA agent concerning torture - Read on: "No. Understand this, from someone who had some involvement in our "enhanced interrogation" program and who worked on terrorism issues for years (see my book, The Interrogator, which relates my involvement in the interrogation of a senior member of al-Qaeda.) I was there: Torture does not work; it makes it harder to evaluate what detainees say, and more suspect. It is unnecessary, it is counterproductive, it is illegal, and it is immoral. Torture besmirches the meaning of America. We become the evil we oppose when we engage in "enhanced interrogation" -- in torture." Glenn L. Carle Zero Dark Thirty
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