The presentation by Fr. Christian Reuter, OFM, was made as part of the capstone course Senior Seminar on Criminal Justice at Lindenwood University, Belleville, IL on March 24, 2016.
The focus was on three areas that would be encountered by those entering the criminal justice systems.
Quick Tour of Penal History and a snapshot of U.S. Corrections.
Moral/Ethical questions posed by the Criminal Justice System.
Personal challenges facing those entering Criminal Justice careers.
Quick Tour of Penal History and U.S. Corrections
The history of the penal justice system has it roots in both the Church and State and can be traced to the current dysfunction in the system. In the Diocese of Belleville we have both prisons and jails. Prisons are necessary to protect society and incarcerate those justly convicted of crimes. There are also many honest criminal justice workers in our prisons and jails and they deserve to be complemented on their jobs. The concerns is how both the Church and State over many years has led to a dysfunctional system.
The criminal justice system was never perfect and will never be. All societies have some type of criminal justice system and some do it better than others. You would say that North Korea does it very badly compared to what is the norm in the United States.There are four basic steps in how society deals with our “fallen” human nature and can be traced back to Adam and Eve in the garden.
1. Social order is established … The Code of Law is enacted.
2. The order is disturbed … The Violation occurs.
3. Responsibility is determined … The Judgement is rendered.
4. Social order is restored … The Remedy is applied.
Detention in the Bible
In the Bible there were no prison as we have today since the people were nomads like the Hebrew people who escaped Egypt. If there were crimes the solution was to cut off heads or bring them back into the community.
Dungeons of the Ancients
In the ancient times there were also no prisons but the Greeks and Romans had dungeons in which the political and religious persons who were disloyal to the king or state would be placed or killed.
Cells of Christian Europe
In most of the European monasteries and government houses there were cells where either religious heretics or political enemies were housed for eventual trial and punishment. In fact, the Church invented temporal punishment based on the philosophy of St. Anselm who taught that Jesus Christ became man to pay off GOD. This was payment for sins committed and deserved punishment as in the prison systems. However, the payment for sins against society was counter to the the teaching of Jesus Christ that we should be showing mercy to those convicted. The Church and State both share the guilt and would adopt this retributive punishment system with the caveat “if you do the crime – you will do the time.”
Prisons in the Modern Era
The prison system in the U.S. began at about the time of the founding of the country in the period 1770’s and continues to this day. The pendulum of crime and punishment has swung between Retribution (Punishment) and Restoration (Restoring) of the offender. The cycles run between Retribution and Restoration in about 50 year cycles.
Period (1770-1820) – History of Revolution and Founding – Retribution
Period (1829-1870) – Democracy and Expansion Occurs – Restoration
Period (1870-1920) – Reconstruction / Immigration – Retribution
Period (1920 -1970) – World Power/Behavior Sciences – Rehabilitation
Period (1970- Present) – Civil Rights/Vietnam – Retribution
Currently (2012-2013) the United States leads the International Rate of Incarceration based on an incarceration rate of 726/100,000 population compared to Russia (475/100,000), China (120/100,000), Germany (79/100,000) and India (30/100,000). The United States has 5% of the worlds population but has 25% of the worlds population incarcerated. Since about 1980 the rate of incarceration has skyrocketed so that U.S. prisons now incarcerate about 2.4 million people. This has resulted in many new prisons built that provide new prison jobs while at the same time the abuse and human suffering has increased. This suffering a result of overcrowding in the prisons and jails resulting in increased violence, the disproportionate incarceration of African-Americans and Hispanics, and the disruption of families of the incarcerated.
This is why the United States prisons are referred to as a “broken system with broken lives – the human tragedy.” A number of conclusion can be drawn from the past decades of incarceration:
– Prisons do not diminish the crime rate
– Detention causes recidivism (one in three return after about 3 years)
– Prisons produce delinquents
– Prisons encourage gangs of delinquents
– Parole restrictions cause recidivism
– Prisons throw inmates’ families into destitution
– Crime is a symptom, not a cause, of society’s ills
– Crime is a function of poverty
Moral & Ethical questions posed by the Criminal Justice System
We need to look at some of the major issues of crime and punishment with a view to understanding the need for prison reform. Some of the factors behind the “broken system” or at whose doorsteps can we lay the responsibilities?
– Church: continues to demonstrate various levels of moral timidity so as not to offend parishioners or diminish money in the collection baskets. Instead we need prophets that speak “truth to power.”
– Government: represents a large bureaucracy with mismanagement at all levels of jail and prison operations, lack of restorative programs and staff to aid in rehabilitation.
– Market: focuses on monetary greed where the prison industrial complex and suppliers to prisons and jails continue to reduce services to increase their bottom line to increase profits for the corporation.
– Media: continues to promote mass hysteria in the reported news so that the public is continually pushing for more incarceration and longer sentences to provide community security.
The goal of Catholic Prison Ministries both inside and outside the walls is to speak out for Justice Advocacy and provide Pastoral Care to promote healing. These are accomplished by working both the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy. The Church must stand as a witnesses to this healing of the incarcerated to combat the negative influences of the Media, Government and the Market place.
Governor Bruce Rauner also understands that the Illinois prison system is broken. He has appointed a 28 member Illinois State Commission on Criminal Justice and Sentencing Reform to reduce the state’s prison population from 49,000 to 36,000 by 2025 through a series of recommended commission reforms. Gov. Rauner has stated that, “we haven’t properly staffed and invested in our correction systems, and we imprison too many non-violent offenders while failing to provide them with ways to get back into society and become productive citizens.”
A number of governmental criminal justice issues need to be addressed to move us from a Retributive Justice framework (scapegoating, violence, payment) to a Restorative Justice model (mercy, forgiveness and rehabilitation).
Law and Policy: Capital Punishment, Privatized Prisons, Immigrant Detention, Mandatory Sentencing
Correctional Management: Solitary Confinement, Rehabilitation and Education, Religious Access and Practice of Faith, Reentry Homes & Services and Parole
Personal challenges facing those entering Criminal Justice Careers
The question to be raised is how we are to maintain our humanity and integrity in a highly volatile work environment in the criminal justice systems as lawyers, social workers, law enforcement, correctional officers in jails and prisons.
In the typical prison system the state establishes rules that are enforced by the Warden. When the rules are broken the officers/police will call out the violation. The Judge will make a ruling on the violations and finally the offender will be punished. The concern is that the punishment is not cruel and unusual, but is reflective of the Restorative Justice model to rehabilitate the offended to be a productive member of the community.
Our current prison system is still very much focused on the Retributive Justice model and many times represents a “prison desert experience.” For the offender this can be characterized as participating in altered time and space, sensory deprivation, social isolation, darkness and silence, danger and violence, and indifference.
These circumstances can lead to a variety of personal issues in the criminal justice system that include the following:
– Dehumanizing Forces: Stress and Anger, Peer Pressure, Abuse of Power, Addictive Behavior
– Strategies for Wholeness: Professionalism, Psychological Health, Community Involvement and Moral Compass
We need to examine these various dehumanizing forces and see that we have counter experiences that will provide us with strategies of wholeness.
1. GOD and CAESAR – Their Entangled Jurisdictions in Criminal Justice, presented by Fr. Christian Reuter, OFM, at Lindenwood University, Belleville, IL., March 24, 2016