By Connie Hegeman, PMPRC
At the 28th Session of Annual Conference the body passed a resolution (21.10) involving mass incarceration and restorative justice. It was resolved that the Bishop appoint a committee of 5 to 7 people to join with other United Methodists and the General Board of Church & Society to study the issues of mass incarceration and to educate our members about these issues: sentencing reform, ending prison privatization, developing just re-entry programs, increasing participation, and opportunities for prison ministry.
Five people have been appointed, with Rev. Bob Holliday as Chair, to form this committee. The committee met in January for the first time to assess our task. A subgroup of about 25 interested people who are doing research are currently connected by email and are exchanging resources and ideas.
Some of these resources include the National Resource Center on Prisons and Communities, the Pew Research Center, The Sentencing Project, Brave New Foundation-Beyond Bars, The Gina Project, Kairos Inside and Outside; The United Methodist Women, and General Board of Church & Society. There are people like Cecil Ash formerly of our state Legislature and Ron Barber in our US Congress that see the need of reform.
After looking at the information out there, so many more issues have come before us including the issue of the death penalty, lifetime imprisonment without parole, extreme isolation, moving prisoners hundreds of miles from their families, severe deprivation of adequate general health care including care for the mentally ill, and very little effort to rehabilitate individuals.
Some of us are reading The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander, a book that implies that by incarcerating so many brown skinned people it shows that there is a conspiracy to disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of individuals by keeping people behind bars. The charge has also been made that private prisons are acquiring facilities to house hundreds of thousands of undocumented individuals giving them little or no legal representation.
Conditions seem to vary from prison to prison, and we want to give a fair presentation of these facts. More than that, we as Christians need to know why we should care. We need to study reconciliation, forgiveness, and restorative justice. We could start by considering just why Jesus is so hard on the older brother in the Gospel of Luke’s The Prodigal Son.