Archbishop of Washington, D.C., Cardinal Donald Wuerl and other Catholic leaders called on Congress to reform the criminal justice system to allow prisoners who have “paid their debt” to re-enter society.
“This is something we have often talked about. It’s been on our radar for a long time – how do we reform the criminal justice system so that we can have a much more fair and welcoming back into the community system?” Wuerl said at an event held by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington.
Jonathan Reyes, executive director of the USCCB Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development, said the active debate over criminal justice reform in Congress brings hope for action.
Reyes said the USCCB believes everyone is a sinner and society’s response to prisoners should not be abandonment. He noted the importance of Pope Francis visiting the Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility in Philadelphia during his trip to the U.S.
“Pope Francis has given us a tremendous visible sign and ministry of what it means to actually care for people who are incarcerated. This is by the way throughout his whole life. Many of us have known and followed that he has done things like have Holy Thursday Mass in prison,” he said.
Craig DeRoche, executive director of Justice Fellowship at USCCB, applauded Pope Francis’ decision to wash the feet of prisoners.
“In America, we have no shortage of Christian leaders that use words to describe how other people should live their lives but seem to come up short themselves personally,” he said. “With Pope Francis, he reminds us that we are all sinners and that in his own life he demonstrates his faith through his humility and those he serves in a way that is much louder than any words could ever express.”
DeRoche said no pope has visited a country with an incarceration rate as high as America’s.
“Our scripture, our truth instructs us that we are to visit the prisoner and that we are to care about this,” he said. “We’ve seen in America that our criminal justice system and our use of incarceration have come up short in our great cities and with the lives we seek to restore.”
Rev. Maidstone Mulenga, assistant to the United Methodist Bishop of the Baltimore-Washington Conference, encouraged the public to welcome back prisoners who have completed their sentences as friends rather than criminals.
“We believe not in retribution but to restore. Restoring justice is our call,” he said. “We can secure funding for federal programs that help from sending people unnecessarily to prison. You see, we should be ashamed that there are more young black men in prison than in colleges.”
Mulenga called on President Obama and Congress to put an end to mass incarceration.
“We must not let this continue,” he said.