Faith and the Criminal Justice System
“We’re not going to let you slip through the cracks. We’re going to hold you accountable, but we’re going to be there for you.” – Dr. Russell Moore
On Thursday, the Ethics and Religious Liberties Commission (ERLC) convened a gathering of lawmakers, faith leaders, businesses and community members, to discuss “Why Our Faith Should Shape the Way We Look at Our Criminal Justice System.”
The event kicked off with testimony from Lindsay Holloway, a young woman who found herself in a cycle of addiction and engaged in the criminal justice system following a series of unfortunate family issues. Upon her release from federal prison, she struggled to secure housing and employment due to her criminal history. When she enrolled in college, her criminal history triggered automatic academic probation. She now has a 4.0 grade point average. Her story is one that is shared by so many people across the country. The people in the room needed to hear the human element to the criminal justice reform effort, and Lindsay is a compelling and inspiring voice who represents the importance of giving second chances. In fact, Lindsay has also started “This is Living Ministries” to assist and mentor other women reentering society from prison.
Attendees were also treated to a noteworthy panel discussion between three Right on Crime Signatories, Dr. Russell Moore, the President of ERLC, Pat Nolan, Director of the American Conservative Union Foundation’s Center for Criminal Justice Reform, and Craig DeRoche, the Senior Vice President of Advocacy and Public Policy of Prison Fellowship. The conversation centered on the role of the Church in criminal justice reform. Consensus was reached on the obligation of Christians to defend the human dignity of prisoners and those with a criminal past, and to demand that our government do likewise. While each panelist recognized the need for personal accountability and responsibility, they observed how our society has created an infrastructure that continues to punish long after an individual has paid their debt. In doling out punishment, too often our criminal justice system sees only a criminal to be punished and not the human being. “These are not throw away people,” Pat Nolan exclaimed. Yet, society tends to treat them as such and then wonders why these individuals fail to become productive members of the society that threw them away. Dr. Moore aptly noted that this view is not only unjust, but “isn’t working, and we must adjust,” and challenged that the Christians must engage to ensure this change takes place.
While I recall the details of this event, I am reminded that criminal justice reform really is a righteous cause. I tend to be absorbed in the nuance of policy and data where criminal justice is concerned, and this conversation refreshed and encouraged my spirit. Criminal justice reform is not just good policy it is a moral obligation. An obligation that each one of us are accountable for, regardless of politics, religion, or anything really. We each have a stake in human dignity of others. It really is that simple.