WASHINGTON (November 14, 2000) -- The U.S. Catholic bishops' committee for the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD) approved, on Sunday, November 12, the allocation of $1million to fund educational and community-based organizing efforts related to crime and the criminal justice system in the United States.
Based on its thirty-year experience of helping poor people empower themselves, the Campaign recognizes the link between poverty and crime. People living in poverty are more often the victims of crime and, when they are the perpetrators of crimes, they often receive more severe penalties than those who have greater financial means. CCHD provides grants to community-based, self-help and economic development projects which aim to change the conditions which lead to poverty.
The Most Reverend John J. Leibrecht, Bishop of Springfield-Cape Girardeau, Missouri, and chairman of the U.S. Catholic Conference's CCHD committee, explained that this initiative is being launched in response to concerns raised by the U.S. Catholic bishops in their proposed statement, Responsibility, Rehabilitation, and Restoration: A Catholic Perspective on Crime and Criminal Justice. This is CCHD's first effort to fund an initiative focused on restorative justice, which includes wholeness and healing for victims, rehabilitation of offenders and security and safety for the public.
"The CCHD Committee believes that concrete steps are necessary in order to translate the bishops' concern into action," Bishop Leibrecht said. "CCHD decided to create this initiative in order to stimulate education and community action that will address concerns raised by crime victims and promote positive changes within the criminal justice system."
The Campaign will offer up to $1 million in grants for both community organizing and education efforts. This funding is allocated from the Campaign's special 25th Anniversary Funds. These grants will be in addition to the $10.1 million announced earlier this year for the Campaign's regular funding cycle of community organizing and economic development projects.
Father Robert J. Vitillo, CCHD executive director, pointed to CCHD-funded projects which have already addressed some of the effects of crime or prevention of criminal activity. Such projects have enabled communities to shut down or demolish vacant buildings used as drug houses, created after-school programs for young people in order to keep them off the streets and out of gangs, established community policing, and helped families organize transportation to visit their loved ones in prison. "Our work against poverty and social injustice has sometimes taken us to the edge of the criminal justice system or just inside it," he said. "This program will enable us to focus some of our resources more specifically on criminal justice in an effort to promote positive changes for the victims of crime, those who have committed crimes and their loved ones, and our communities-at-large."
He added, "We have not lost sight of the complexity of the criminal justice system in this country; this complexity has contributed to the ineffectiveness of the present system. Through concerted, community-based efforts, initiated and led by the very people who are most affected by crime -- those living in poverty -- we can hope to address these issues in a serious and thoughtful way. The bishops have told us that, as Catholics and Americans, we can no longer watch passively as crime and violence take a toll on communities and our fellow citizens; neither can we watch passively as the system fails to rehabilitate prisoners and give them a reasonable chance at productive re-entry into society."
According to Fr. Vitillo, the projects must work toward structural and institutional changes in order to have an impact on the criminal justice system and on society itself. Tangible results will be important, as will the ability to create projects that could be tested and then replicated in other places. Finally, Fr. Vitillo said, project applicants will receive priority consideration when they involve ex-offenders, family members of offenders, or low-income crime victims and their families, in keeping with the CCHD mandate to support projects which are led by people living in poverty.
Educational grant monies will be made available to dioceses and other organizations which collaborate to educate Catholics and others to look at criminal justice issues in a more humane manner. Priority will be given to requests from creative programs that can be replicated across the country.
More detailed information about the grant process will be available after December 15. To receive a copy of a Criminal Justice Initiative RFP, write to CCHD, 3211 4th Street, N.E., Washington, D.C. 20017-1194.
For more information, contact Barbara Stephenson at 202-541-3364.