- Meaningful sentencing reform legislation that reduces mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent drug offenses;
- Reauthorization of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act, the federal legislation that sets national standards for care, protection, and rehabilitation of juvenile offenders;
- Passage of legislation that outlaws life without parole sentences for juveniles;
- Renewal of the Second Chance Act, which provides grants for prisoner re-entry programs
- Support for the Youth PROMISE Act, which provides funding for youth and gang violence prevention programs;
- Lifting of the lifetime ban on SNAP, TANF, public housing programs, and voting disenfranchisement for individuals with criminal records.
The United States incarcerates more of its citizens per capita than any other country in the world. Nearly 2.2 million people are held in Federal or State prisons and county jails on a daily basis. Additionally, on any given day over 70,000 juveniles are held in custody. The United States is also the only country in the world to sentence youth to die in prison through life without parole sentences.
The incarceration rate in the United States has increased by over 500% in the past three decades. The oft-repeated statistic that the U.S. is home to 5% of the world’s population and 25% of the world’s prisoners gives us a sense of the magnitude of our country’s incarceration problem.
Studies have shown that African Americans and whites use drugs at about the same rate, yet African Americans are almost four times more likely to be arrested for possession or use. People of color account for 30% of the total U.S. population, yet make up nearly 60% of the prison population. These stunning statistics reveal a deeply entrenched and racist orientation in the makeup of our justice system.
Policing in the United States relies disproportionately on the use of force, often deadly force. While no single, official government database of individuals yet exists, according to the Guardian’s “The Counted” project this year alone, nearly 760 people have been killed by police. Unfortunately, people of color are more likely to be killed by police than Whites.
A recent report by the Vera Institute of Justice shows that nearly seventy-five percent of people held in America’s jails are being held for non-violent property, drug, or public order offenses. The same report also reveals that women and men in jail are affected by mental illness at rates four to six times higher than the general population.
This year alone, an estimated 630,000 men, women, and juveniles will re-enter society after they serve their sentences in federal and state prisons. An additional 9 million individuals will be released from local jails and detention centers. Upon their release, these men, women, and children will face additional difficulties, often called “collateral consequences.” Many employers refuse to hire individuals with criminal records. A number of states strip formerly incarnated individuals of their right to vote. These individuals are also barred from public assistance programs like SNAP, TANF, and public housing.
Our faith also teaches that all people are redeemable and possess inherent human dignity. In their letter Responsibility, Rehabilitation, and Restoration: A Catholic Perspective on Crime and Criminal Justice, the U.S. Catholic Bishops wrote, “We are all sinners, and our response to sin and failure should not be abandonment and despair, but rather justice, contrition, reparation, and return or re-integration of all into the community.”
Join The Response
1. Schedule In-District Visits With Your Members of Congress
Establishing and continuing relationships with your Senators and Representatives is crucial to advocating for justice. As both representatives and members of your communities, every Senator and Representative has an office–often multiple offices–in their home states. Visits to these offices are an impactful way to speak, neighbor to neighbor, with representatives and let them know why and how the laws and policies pertaining to criminal and juvenile justice impact your community.