Despite the recent influx of political attention given to criminal justice reform these past few weeks, discussions about how criminal justice reform could be accomplished should be especially important to Christians. I am relieved that more people are now sounding the alarm for what they see as an over-incarcerated and mistreated population.
Earlier this month, I attended a discussion hosted by Justice Fellowship with Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Tim Scott (R-SC). Both senators discussed the manner in which their Christian faith influences the policy decisions they make. According to data compiled by Pew Research Center, 92 percent of members of the current Congress are Christian. Criminal justice reform is something we should absolutely urge members of Congress to fight for, not because it is the Christian thing to do, but because it is a human thing to do.
The American Bar Association has identified nearly 50,000 collateral consequences that negatively impact our incarcerated brothers and sisters when returning to their homes and neighborhoods. As a Christian community, we believe in second chances. If we are to call ourselves followers of Christ, then it is absolutely critical that we follow his example by caring for those who have been cast out in society. The Bible is about liberation, compassion, and redemption. It instructs us to reach out to those who have been cast out of society. If we were given a second chance through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, then we should extend this grace to others.
The United States comprises 5 percent of the world’s population, yet we have 25 percent of the world’s prison population, with 2.2 million people currently incarcerated in prisons or jails.
Even after serving one’s sentence, the United States still doesn’t return your voting rights, and can prevent one from obtaining a driver’s license or receiving a student loan. The United States does not ensure that an individual has the resources and opportunities to learn from their mistakes and move on with their lives. Instead, our system largely succeeds at simply caging and dehumanizing anyone convicted of a crime.
It is counterproductive to believe our current system is reforming prisoners – many of who are non-violent offenders. We are all better than our worst moment. We must exercise compassion. We are all sinners.
Our failure to welcome and provide assistance to those who have been cast out by society could turn people away from their faith. As a Christian community, we must extend not only our hand, but also are hearts to individuals and families that have been tossed aside by the criminal justice system.
Amber Nicole Finlay is a rising fourth-year Political & Social Thought and African-American & African Studies major at the University of Virginia. Her main academic interests include Christian economic behavior, the intersection of religion and politics, and civil rights.