The bishops new statement on criminal justice Responsibility, Rehabilitation, and Restoration: A Catholic Perspective on Crime and Criminal Justice has received a very positive reaction from a wide range of people. The central theme of the documentthat people who commit crimes need to be held accountable, but as a Church, we should never give up on themseems to resonate with most everyone. After a unanimous vote by the bishops in November, the press was very encouraging:
"The statement. . .is intended as the bishops' major message for the beginning of the new millennium, equivalent to their influential 1980s pronouncement on peace. . .Released after 10 years of study, the statement attempts a balanced approach that acknowledges personal 'responsibility' while advocating more 'rehabilitation.' It includes moving testimony from victims and law enforcement officials as well as prisoners." (Hannah Rosin, The Washington Post, 11/16/00).
"I see this as a major initiative that's going to engage us pastorally for years to come," (Cardinal Roger Mahony, as quoted by Gus Neibuhr in the New York Times, 11/15/00).
"With politicians of every stripe trashing prisoners, drug addicts and immigrants, the bishops offer a timely reminder that justice should be tempered by mercy and that 'cultural pluralism was the common heritage of all Americans.' It is time, they said, 'for a new national dialogue on crime and corrections.' To which we say, amen. Liberals criticize the church for its opposition to abortion and the ordination of women. The Catholic bishops deserve to be judged for the whole of their works. They are one of the few humane and progressive voices being raised in this time of self-centered prosperity." (St. Petersburg Times editorial, 11/20/00). The statement offers a variety of policy prescriptions consistent with our teaching and tradition as well as a list of suggestions for Catholic action.
- We encourage you to strategize with colleagues back home (other diocesan offices such as Education, Youth Ministry, Detention Ministry, etc.) to determine which ones you could implement.
- We also urge you to work with your bishop to assist him in drafting an op-ed for the diocesan or local newspaper. Under his signature, send complimentary copies of the statement to deans of Catholic law schools, corrections officials, victims groups, lawyers, deacons, chiefs of police, state legislators and others and engage them about the document.
- Use the document to begin a dialogue with local ecumenical, community safety, or other civic organizations and use the ideas in the statement to inform your community's approaches to victims, offenders and neighborhood responses to crime.
- Apply to the Catholic Campaign for Human Development for funds they have dedicated to help implement the statement. A "request for proposals" was mailed earlier this month to diocesan social action directors, currently funded groups, and others to submit their ideas for criminal justice projects. Consistent with their mission, CCHD will be looking for initiatives that will lead to institutional change at the local level. There will be two opportunities to apply this year: March and June.
Legislative Prospects for the 107th Congress:
Prospects for a comprehensive criminal justice bill in the 107th Congress appear unlikely. In the past four years, Congress has tried to pass a juvenile justice bill. The reasons for the failure are instructive: juvenile crime, like adult crime, is down; advocates for youth lobbied hard to strip the bills of their harshest provisions (e.g., allowing juveniles to be housed with adults in local jails and prisons, lowering the age whereby a youth could be sentenced as an adult, including sentenced to death); and, finally, when modest gun control provisions were defeated by the pro-gun lobby, the bill failed to make it out of committee.
For further information: Dan Misleh 202.541.3190;,fax 202.541.3339; firstname.lastname@example.org