Those in prison and returning to the community have, to be sure done wrong – sometimes the unthinkable wrong – but there is no wrong that cannot be forgiven and no life that cannot be saved. The work of prisoner re-entry is the work of forgiveness.
Every year over 650,000 men and women are released from state and federal prisons. Over 75% about 487,500 individuals are re-arrested within five years. They have great difficulty finding employment and housing, and many are dealing with alcohol and/or drug addictions. Most re-entering persons do not immediately obtain heath insurance and thus do not have access to medical or behavioral health care. Prison may be punishment by design, but people who are re-entering civil society ought not to be punished anew by neglect, indifference or, worse, contempt.
In other words, punishment should be in accordance with its three purposes:
- Protection of the common good
- Restoration of public order
- Conversion or rehabilitation of the offender
Those coming back into the community from prison are not disqualified from salvation, nor are they undeserving of the mercy the rest of us so often enjoy. Re-entry is a Christian idea and that means assisting returning persons to restore their lives to a healthy and virtuous place.
Pope Francis visited inmates at the Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility in Philadelphia and said:
“Christ teaches us to see the world through his eyes, eyes that are not scandalized by the dust picked up along the way, but eyes that want to cleanse, heal and restore.”
Reference: Jim McGreevey, New Jersey Reentry Corporation (www.njreentry.org)