Restoring All to the Fullness of Life: A Pastoral Statement on Criminal Justice

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Restoring All to the Fullness of Life: A Pastoral Statement on Criminal Justice

September 22, 2000

A Pastoral Statement on Criminal Justice for the Jubilee Year

Criminal Justice: The Need for Reform

“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good tidings to the afflicted; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Isaiah 61:1-2, Luke 4: 18-19).

In 1982, we Bishops addressed the need for criminal justice reform in our state in a comprehensive statement that recognized the far-reaching ramifications of crime—for the victim, the offender, and our society as a whole.

Fully supportive of the state’s primary responsibility to protect the safety of the public, we questioned whether that responsibility is best met by an almost exclusive emphasis on incarceration. We urged an effort to develop viable alternatives to what was at the time a dramatic increase in the state’s inmate population, and a consequent rush to construct more prisons. Our recommendations included reasonable bail policies for those charged with non-violent offenses; alternatives to incarceration for those convicted of non-violent crimes; treatment programs, in place of or in conjunction with prison terms for offenders suffering from mental illness or substance abuse; and the chance for offenders to improve themselves while incarcerated, through educational opportunities, adequate health care including psychiatric treatment where needed, and the opportunity for religious worship and spiritual growth. It is with sadness and concern that we note that unfortunately few, if any, of these recommendations were fully implemented.

A Christian Perspective

“I, the Lord, have called you for the victory of justice, I have grasped you by the hand; I formed you, and set you as a covenant of the people, a light for the nations, to open the eyes of the blind, to bring out prisoners from confinement, and from the dungeon, those who live in darkness.” (Isaiah 42: 6-7)

“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall be shown mercy.” (Matthew 5: 7)

The ensuing years have seen a continued and even more intense emphasis on imprisonment, as well as reinstatement of the death penalty. We thus feel called, in this Jubilee Year, to renew our invitation to the people of New York State to embrace an approach to criminal jus