Church doctrine is centered on the dignity of every human person and the inherent value of every life, and that view informs our positions relative to the administration of justice. Pope Francis has called for all to be a part of the effort to help inmates reintegrate themselves into society, seeking a rehabilitation which “benefits and elevates the morale of the entire community.”
Church teaching provides that the criminal justice system should a.) preserve and protect the common good of society, b.) restore public order, and c.) the restore the offender. Systems should, therefore, place an emphasis on restoration and reintegration of offenders, over lengthy, nonrehabilitative periods of incarceration.
Additionally, lengthy and nonrehabilitative periods of incarceration can have a crippling effect on families by disrupting support systems, postponing education and interrupting the economic stability of already-marginalized communities. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has stressed the importance of recognizing that “low-income and minority persons are disproportionately impacted by incarceration” and that our systems of justice are often “replete with economic and racial disparities”.
In addressing these concerns, the Church has long discouraged corrections policies that seek to address crime by building more prison walls. Instead, state resources should be directed toward effective programs aimed at crime prevention, rehabilitation, education efforts, substance abuse and mental health treatment, and programs of probation, parole and reintegration. The Church also supports policies proven to reduce recidivism and incarceration for nonviolent offenders and invest in alternative programs, policies and/or services that will uphold the dignity of all whose lives are affected by our system of incarceration and bring restoration to victims, offenders and the communities they live in.
Upon completion of their sentence, offenders should be afforded the tools necessary to re-enter society in healthy and productive ways. Those released from our corrections systems often face significant barriers such as homelessness, unemployment, poverty, substance abuse, emotional and psychological stress, and social isolation. Without the proper support to help them succeed, recidivism is likely to place the person in an almost endless cycle that impacts the community and the life and dignity of the offender.
Lastly, the Church places special emphasis on protecting the one of the most vulnerable, but yet most vital, classes of our society,our children. Therefore, in addressing issues relative to our system of justice, particular care must be taken to ensure safeguards for youthful offenders who’ve committed or have been alleged to have committed a crime while under the age of 18. These include banning life in prison without parole, which Pope Francis has alluded to as “a hidden death penalty,” repealing some of Maryland’s stringent automatic-charging measures, where children are charged as adults regardless of the circumstance and, where warranted, allowing cases to be resolved without an admission of guilt on the record, when addressing an underlying social issue would be a more restorative and productive measure.