As bishops and denominational leaders, we humbly offer this perspective on growing incarceration as inspired by our faith traditions.
Every day Christians pray for justice and mercy in the prayer that Jesus taught us: “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Every day Christians recognize both that we are guilty of sin and that we are forgiven: “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” This common prayer, the Lord’s Prayer, recognizes our failures and offenses, and acknowledges our dependence on God’s love and mercy.
In the love of Christ, who came to save those who are lost and vulnerable, we urge policy makers and criminal justice leaders to fund and create systems that ensure the care and restoration of victims, offenders, criminal justice officials, and the community as a whole.
We believe an overcrowded jail should not inevitability lead to millions of tax dollars to build a bigger jail. Instead it should sound the call for answers to demanding questions. Who is in our jail? Why? Can we prevent crime by investing in job training, affordable housing, addiction counseling, mental health treatment? How can we expand restorative justice practices that seeks to repair the damage, right the wrong, and bring healing to all involved, including the victim, the offender, the families, and the community? How can we shorten jail time as potentially innocent men and women await trial? How do we minimize the toxic stress children endure from having a parent incarcerated? How do we ensure racism does not blind the eye of righteous? How do we prevent dangerous criminals from perpetuating violence? How do prevent excessive incarceration that leads to job and housing loss that leads to more criminal behavior?
These are difficult questions. But now is the time for exploration. Public discussion surrounding the criminal justice system usually begins after one of two things: (1) a high-profile tragedy or (2) an increase in taxes to expand its reach. We can be grateful that it is the latter in Douglas County. That being said, we cannot deny that jails and prisons in the United States have expanded far beyond acceptable levels, and mass incarceration is a societal sin.
So at this time and place Douglas County has an opportunity to take its time and invest its limited resources wisely. We understand prevention and restoration is not the traditional path for policymakers - it will require patience and leadership. We pray our members in Douglas County will support this kind of leadership and become an agent of healing and systemic redemption.
- Bishop Roger Gustafson, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, Central States Synod
- Fr. Christopher Popravak, OSM Cap, Provincial Minister, Capuchin Province of Mid-America
- Rev. Landon Whitsitt, Executive & Stated Clerk of the Synod of Mid-America, Presbyterian Church USA
- Bishop Dean Wolfe, the Episcopal Diocese of Kansas