By Dan Sagramoso
What’s the current status of criminal justice in the U.S and in Arizona?
The U.S. has the highest incarceration rate of any country in the world. Arizona has the fourth highest rate in the U.S., with about 42,000 people in state prisons at any point in time. Our mandatory minimum sentence laws force judges to impose long sentences for relatively minor, nonviolent crimes, including drug crimes, which are the largest source of prison admissions. (ACLU Smart Justice, 2018)
What does the Bible say about criminal justice?
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free. (Luke 4:18, NRSV)
Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured. (Hebrews 13:3, NRSV)
When all the prisoners of the land are crushed under foot, when human rights are perverted in the presence of the Most High, when one’s case is subverted—does the Lord not see it? (Lamentations 3:34-36)
What does the United Methodist Church say?
In the love of Christ, who came to save those who are lost and vulnerable, we urge the creation of a genuinely new system for the care and restoration of victims, offenders, criminal justice officials, and the community as a whole. (The United Methodist Church General Board of Church and Society, 2016)
Most criminal justice systems around the world are retributive. These retributive justice systems profess to hold the offender accountable to the state and use punishment as the equalizing tool for accountability. In contrast, restorative justice seeks to hold the offender accountable to the victimized person, and to the disrupted community. Through God’s transforming power, restorative justice seeks to repair the damage, right the wrong, and bring healing to all involved, including the victim, the offender, the families, and the community. (The United Methodist Church General Board of Church and Society, 2016)
What are the political party positions?
For years we have heard ”Tough on Crime” rhetoric from political campaigns and legislators. This rhetoric appeared to play well with voters. In the past year or so, however, there is some bipartisan support for criminal justice reform. One now hears discussions about the high cost of our policy of mass incarceration and how some of that money could be better used to support public education and other needs.
Key questions to ask your legislators about justice reform:
- Will you support state efforts to reduce the high rate of recidivism in Arizona, by targeting issues of homelessness, technical violations, substance abuse, and mental illness?
- Will you work to draft legislation to reform our excessive sentencing laws?
- As citizens and Methodists, what are our responsibilities concerning criminal justice reform this election?
Become informed about the issue.
Ask the candidates about their positions.
Make up your own mind and VOTE.
ACLU Smart Justice. (2018). Blueprint for Smart Justice Arizona. Retrieved from 50stateblueprint.aclu.org: https://50stateblueprint.aclu.org/assets/reports/SJ-Blueprint-AZ.pdf
The United Methodist Church General Board of Church and Society. (2016). Social Principles: The Political Community. Retrieved from umc.org: http://www.umc.org/what-we-believe/political-community#criminal-justice