Fr. Christian Reuter, Prison Ministry Coordinator of the Catholic Diocese of Belleville and a representative of the Catholic Conference of Illinois spoke to the Illinois Commission on Criminal Justice and Sentencing Reform on May 14, 2015 in Springfield, IL. The theme was on why our church and faith communities are very interested in matters of criminal justice. Prison ministry not only attends to the spiritual needs of prisoners through chaplaincies, but we are also committed to the pastoral care of all families and communities impacted by incarceration.
I would suggest, that departments of “correction” achieve their goals better when the faith dimension is integral and indispensable in their vision and programming. In short, we both need each other to succeed. I would like to make the following suggestions:
1. Illinois affirms the basic human rights and dignity of all persons, including those who are incarcerated and including both citizens and undocumented. Among those rights is that of practice of one’s religious faith without undue hindrance.
2. While punishment for crime is a legitimate function of the State’s criminal justice system, Illinois’ sentencing and incarceration policies will seek to favor rehabilitation over retribution and will adequately prepare prisoner for re-entry into society whenever possible.
Dr.Christie Billups also presented to the Illinois Commission on Criminal Justice and Sentencing Reform on May 14, 2015 as representing the Restorative Justice Committee, Diocese of Joliet. The focus was on support, resources, and opportunities for at risk young people to prevent and interrupt the “school to prison” pipeline. There are many cost-effective and evidence-based approaches to prevent incarceration: mentoring programs, at home family support, after school programs, and conflict resolution training. Prison reduction can be accomplished if state and federal legislation, court procedures and policy proposals follow principles of restorative justice. The Youth PROMISE Act, the Redeem Act, Second Chance Act, and the Smarter Sentencing Act are such policy proposals. Re-entry programs can significantly reduce recidivism. Collaboration among institutions, such as churches, local governments, non-profits, and returning citizens are needed. Re-enty homes and programs will save money by lowering recidivism and supporting previously tax-paying citizens.