Our Catholic Church doctrine is centered on the dignity of every human person and the inherent value of every life. It is that view which 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 that “benefits and elevates the morale of the entire community.”
Church teaching holds that the criminal justice system should:
- preserve and protect the common good of society
- restore public order
- the restore the offender.
Therefore, our criminal justice systems should place an emphasis on restoration and reintegration of offenders, over lengthy, non-rehabilitative periods of incarceration. Lengthy 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.”
The Conference has long opposed corrections policies that seek to address crime by building more prison walls. Instead, we support state resources being directed toward effective programs for crime prevention, rehabilitation, education, substance abuse and mental health treatment, as well as programs of probation, parole and reintegration. The Conference also supports policies proven to reduce recidivism and incarceration for nonviolent offenders and state investment 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 in which they live.
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.
Our Church places special emphasis on protecting the one of the most vulnerable, yet most vital, classes of our society: our children. Therefore, in addressing our system of justice, particular care must be taken to ensure safeguards for youth offenders who have committed or have been alleged to have committed a crime while under the age of 18. These include:
- banning life in prison without parole for youth offenders — something 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
- allowing cases, where warranted, to be resolved without an admission of guilt on the record, particularly when addressing an underlying social issue would be a more restorative and productive measure for the child.
Learn more about restorative justice work being done by the Catholic Mobilizing Network.
Download the Catholic Mobilizing Network's one-pager about Restorative Justice HERE.