At the Duke Summer Institute this week, pastors and leaders in reconciliation ministries from 25 states and 10 countries heard a lament about the current state of our criminal justice system in America. Sarah Jobe shared about how if you care about racial justice, you care about prisons because the prison-industrial complex has been our society’s answer to the unfinished business of the Civil Rights Movement. If you care about domestic violence, she said, you care about prison, because 85-95% of women in prison have been victims of domestic violence. If you care about mental health, you care about prisons because these are the institutions where we are housing people who’ve fallen through the cracks of our health care system.
Hearing this as a lament, this gathering also heard a call to action. In our final time of worship this morning, we received this charge to carry with us back to our communities:
Duke Summer Institute Call to Action
“And now, behold, the cry of the people of Israel has come to me, and I have also seen the oppression with which the Egyptians oppress them” (Ex. 3:9).
Gathered in the name of Jesus at the Duke Summer Institute, we have endeavored to train our ears to the ear of God. Listening in the diverse presence of the body of Christ, we have heard the cries of our sisters and brothers who are not here—the lament of those who are locked up in prisons and labeled as “criminal” by the current prison-industrial complex. We have noted that these sisters and brothers are disproportionally people of color, victims of domestic violence, and people who suffer from mental illness. We acknowledge that we are part of the Egypt that has locked them away, and we repent.
Emboldened by the power of God’s forgiveness and the hope of new creation, we also return to our home communities as people committed to a new vision for society. Prophetic listening compels us to prophetic action. So we commit to:
Michelle Alexander’s book The New Jim Crow is a resource we will share with our churches and communities, employing the study guide that has been developed for faith communities by the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Institute. (Find it online with other resources at www.2befreeatlast.net).
Christian Reflection, a publication of Baylor University’s Center for Christian Ethics, has an issue focused on prisons, complete with a week-by-week study guide for small group or Sunday school use. Order copies and/or access the study guide at www.christianethics.ws.
Project TURN is a model for how churches and faith communities can enter into prisons and correctional centers as a learning space where a new community is formed to imagine new possibilities. Learn more at http://newmonasticism.org/turn.php.
At the local level, we seek to know our neighbors who are being locked up and stand with them in campaigns to reduce racial profiling, to “ban the box” when people are released from prison, and to otherwise make it possible for formerly incarcerated people to flourish in society.
A resource for local reporting is provided online at: http://2befreeatlast.net/index.php?option=com_k2&view=itemlist&layout=category&task=category&id=4&Itemid=480
We acknowledge that education, consciousness raising, and grassroots organizing on this issue must lead to advocacy for a new vision of justice in America today. In our lives and in our prayers, we seek nothing less than the abolition of our current prison-industrial complex and the establishment of a restorative justice system that recognizes all human beings—even the most broken—as children of God.
Toward this end, we support efforts to resist the privatization of prisons as a way of removing them from public scrutiny. Learn more about a campaign of accountability for private prisons here:
The National Religious Coalition Against Torture has identified solitary confinement within U.S. prisons as one of its focus areas. For actions items from NRCAT, see http://www.nrcat.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=429&Itemid=311
Learn more about a national campaign against crime and mass incarceration here:
As people who have the word of reconciliation planted in us, we praise the God of Israel who spoke all things into existence and who makes a way out of no way.