The American Correctional Association will hold its 147th annual Congress August 18-22 in St. Louis. This is a huge event that attracts a large number of entities and individuals associated with the ever-growing “industry” of incarceration in our country. The ambitious schedule of presentations and exhibits addresses many, but not all, parts of the picture. We have partnered with other faith-based groups in the Metro-East to add a viewpoint the organizers forgot to add to the Congress program.
Our Belleville Diocese Prison Ministry has been working with the Criminal Justice Ministry in the Archdiocese of St. Louis to plan a concurrent event—a teachable moment—during the ACA’s visit here. With the cooperation of St. Louis University and other community agencies, we will host an “Incarceration Forum” on Saturday, August 19, to draw attention to crucial issues that must be addressed for effective reforms to happen. We will focus attention on the high costs of incarceration to all stakeholders and identify realistic solutions.
The Association has a long and glorious history as criminology’s flagship organization. Through most of those years, in its meetings and scholarly journals, it has been the forum in which the policies and practices of governmental punishment could be professionally and dispassionately debated. But quite predictably, at least in retrospect and in tandem with the exponential growth of the prison industry, the ACA has “morphed” into a trade association for those who are our prisons’ operators and vendors. For the annual Congress it shamelessly recruits corporate sponsors, who in turn use the occasion for contracts and influence. This “Prison-Industrial Complex” has primary allegiance to its shareholders and cannot be expected to endorse meaningful reforms to the criminal justice system.
So there is indeed a missing piece in the puzzle, and your presence at the Incarceration Forum will bear witness to tell the full story. As Upton Sinclair so famously observed a century ago: “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it”.