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Old 07-09-2005, 10:26 PM
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Thumbs up Criminal Justice and Prison Reform Statement Passed by Unitarian Universalists 6/2005

June 27, 2005 – Fort Worth, TX) On Saturday, June 25, the annual General Assembly of the Unitarian Universalist Association adopted a sweeping new policy statement on criminal justice and prison reform. The statement issues a broad critique of the criminal justice system and calls for numerous reforms, including elimination of the death penalty, ending mandatory minimum sentencing, and focusing on prevention rather than punishment. The full text is online at www.uua.org/csw.

According to the opening paragraph, “The magnitude of injustice and inequity in the system stands in stark contrast to the values that our nation—and our faith—proclaim....We offer a moral vision of a justice system that operates in harmonious accord with our values as a faith community.”

The General Assembly delegates hosted a public protest against the death penalty outside the Fort Worth convention center, where clergy and activists from Texas addressed the crowd and shared moving personal stories about their experiences as victims of violent crime and as advocates for inmates on death row. In his invocation, the Rev. Sinkford prayed, “May we all, together, find a path which does not place us in the role of ultimate judgment and may we together create a system that protects the citizens without taking more lives.”

The statement as approved:

As Unitarian Universalists, we are committed to affirm the inherent goodness and worth within each of us. As Americans, we take pride in our Constitutional promise of liberty, equality, and justice for all, including those who have violated the law. Yet, the incarceration rate in the United States is five to tenfold that of other nations, even those without such a constitutional promise. Our corrections system is increasingly rife with inequitable sentencing, longer terms of detention, racial and ethnic profiling, and deplorable jail and prison conditions and treatment. The magnitude of injustice and inequity in this system stands in stark contrast to the values that our nation-and our faith-proclaim. We are compelled to witness this dissonance between what America proclaims for criminal justice and what America practices. We offer an alternative moral vision of a justice system that operates in harmonious accord with our values as a community of faith. This vision includes the presumption of innocence, fair judicial proceedings, the merciful restoration of those who have broken the law, the renunciation of torture and other abusive practices, and a fundamental commitment to the dignity and humane treatment of everyone in our society, including prisoners.

The Current Crisis

In 2004, the United States incarcerated 2.2 million people in its prisons and jails. Among industrialized nations, the United States incarcerates the largest percentage of its population. Additionally, there are stark disparities in the racial composition of our nation's prisons, as African Americans account for fully half of the prison population and comprise only thirteen percent of the total population. As the costs of imprisonment increase, together with the numbers of incarcerated, scarce public funds have forced the system into privatization and reduction of standards. Post-9/11 public fears have intensified the perceived need for retributive policies and have undermined those that are , redemptive, rehabilitative, and restorative. Elected leaders and their constituents commonly conspire in this politics of fear.

Although Americans take great pride in the freedoms we enjoy, the American prison system violates basic human rights in many ways. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which the United States endorsed in 1948, states in Article 5, "No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment." American correctional practice often subjects inmates to abusive treatment, such as torture and rape, and neglects basic human needs such as health care and nutrition. Terrorism suspects are detained without charge, legal counsel, or access to family.

The American penchant for retribution squanders opportunities for redemption, , , rehabilitation and restoration of the individual offender. Failures in the criminal justice system have created a disenfranchised, stigmatized class, predominantly lower-income, poorly educated, or from racial and ethnic minorities. The punishment for crime is often simply separation from society, and the sentence one serves is the punishment. In our penal system, punishment often continues even after those convicted have completed their sentence. They are stripped of voting rights, denied social services, and barred from many professions. If convicted of a drug crime, they become ineligible for federal student loans to attend college. Our criminal justice system makes it exceedingly difficult for anyone to reintegrate into society. Consequently, an unacceptable percentage of those released from our prisons and jails recidivate. As people who return to their communities find they lack the opportunity and skills to function fully in society and hold down a job, families and communities are undermined.

Not all prisoners who enter the system leave. One of the most shameful aspects of our current criminal justice system is the death penalty. Many countries have abandoned the practice of capital punishment. Studies fail to demonstrate that the death penalty actually deters crime. While the United States Supreme Court has ruled against the execution of juvenile offenders , the death penalty is still legal in the United States. Experience shows that judges and juries wrongly convict defendants; some convictions have been overturned only after the wrongly convicted were executed.

Toward a New Corrections Philosophy

A preferred alternative to current penal practice is a correctional system that is redemptive, rehabilitative, and restorative. Redemptive justice recognizes justice as relational. Its purpose is to restore wholeness and rightness in the social order and in the disposition of the offender, not to exact revenge. Rehabilitative justice is a process of education, socialization, and empowerment of the offender to the status whereby she or he may safely, constructively, and appreciatively reenter society. Restorative justice is a process whereby the offender and victim can reconcile, with support from the community, on appropriate restitution and healing measures that may or may not include sentencing or imprisonment. The cost savings of a restorative justice process over current penal practices may be more effectively invested in providing preventative support services in the community, such as literacy education, vocational training, drug addiction treatment, viable employment, and affordable housing.

Appropriate punishment for many crimes may well be separation from society, but society's responsibility does not end there. The new corrections philosophy prepares offenders for their successful reentry into society. An overwhelming majority of those who are incarcerated return to their communities, yet only a small percentage receive meaningful rehabilitative programming while in prison. In the new system, they will receive substantial rehabilitation services, including vocational training and education programs during incarceration and employment and transitional housing once released. Redemption, rehabilitation, and restoration are not only humanely forgiving of those who have fallen off the main societal track, they are more effective and less costly in addressing the criminal justice needs of our whole society.

A Call to Unitarian Universalists

Appalled by the gross injustices in our current criminal justice system, we the member congregations of the Unitarian Universalist Association commit ourselves to working in our communities to reform the criminal justice and correctional systems and effect justice for both victims and violators. We act in the spirit that we are indeed our sisters' and brothers' keepers. Love is our governing principle in all human relationships. Therefore, that we may speak with one voice in unity, though not uniformity, we commit ourselves, our congregations, and our Association to these congregational actions and advocacy goals.

Congregational Actions

·Form a study group within our congregation to learn about our own local jail and state prison system, its budget, recidivism rates, rehabilitation programs (inside and outside the facilities), and opportunities for volunteers.

·Network and collaborate with existing community outreach programs and advocacy groups for prisoners and their families.

·Establish Unitarian Universalist prison ministries and encourage volunteers from our congregations to go into prisons and get involved with and/or begin peer-counseling/mentoring programs.

Advocacy Goals

·Legislation that strengthens gun control, ends the so-called "War on Drugs," allows for discretionary sentencing, and abolishes the death penalty.

·Reforms of the judicial system to establish drug courts that prescribe treatment rather than imprisonment, provide affordable and competent counsel for all defendants, and empower citizen review boards.

·Effective alternatives to incarceration such as arbitration, restorative justice programs, community service, in-house arrest, and mental health and substance abuse treatment.

·Dismantling of the for-profit prison industry.

·Publicly funded and managed system of correctional facilities accredited by the National Commission on Correctional Health Care and by the American Correctional Association, ensuring that children and youths are separated from adults in the penal system, providing appropriate facilities and services for prisoners with mental health and other health concerns, addressing the unique medical and psychological needs of female prisoners, and abolishing cruel detention and interrogation methods and the use of isolation for prolonged periods of time.

·Termination of the relocation of prisoners out-of-state or country and help to sustain families and family life by assigning prisoners to facilities near their homes and by providing facilities that are conducive to comfortable family visits.

·Universal access to rehabilitation, education, and job training programs and restorative and recovery programs provided for non-religious as well as for religious prisoners.

·A probation and parole system empowered and enabled to correct the excesses of past mandatory sentencing requirements, provide compassionate reprieves for the terminally ill and aged, support former prisoners as they reenter society, and allow for individual evaluation of technical parole violations.

·Elimination of post-prison restrictions on the civil rights and civil liberties, including voting rights, of those who have paid their debt to society.

Through ongoing congregational education, advocacy and action, we can make good on our American promise and our Unitarian Universalist heritage to be both compassionate and just to all in our society. Through our diligence and perseverance in realizing this promise, we can live the core values of our country and extend the values of our faith to the benefit of others.

Although some of the crimes for which criminals have been convicted include the most unconscionable acts, this does not serve as justification to deny prisoners basic human rights. In some cases, inmates are subjected to fourteen-hour workdays and being shackled and beaten. The overarching goal of American prisons should be restorative justice to help prepare violators of the fundamental moral codes of our society for reentry into society, not to exploit them for labor or treat them as objects for abuse. As DNA technology has shown that some prisoners are in fact innocent, we should demand wider use of such technologies to ensure that the innocent are not unjustly punished.


September 10th 2009
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Old 07-06-2007, 10:12 PM
cjc cjc is offline
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Restorative justice is a good antidote to retributive justice becuase it beneifts both society and the individual.

It seems what is going on here is massive oppression. Poverty is the root of crime.

Perhaps if 90% of the people did not own only 10% of the wealth, we would be doing better.

I have been accused of being a visionary by many.

I envision a day when treatment and rehabiliation replace "punishment" and iron bars, not to mention humiliation and permanent reduction in social status and permanent loss of humane rights.

Christopher J. Colna
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Old 07-10-2007, 12:35 PM
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The break up of the American family is another substantial reason for crime......young men growing up without fathers...leading to drug and alcohol abuse and violence. A loss of morals in society is another leading cause....where self is promoted and God is discounted. We need to get back to basics in the family and within society. Hurt people often hurt others and themselves. We have a generation of young people who have no vision and have lost hope. We must give that back to them for the sake of our families AND our country or we Shall self-destruct.
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Old 04-13-2015, 05:55 AM
selinanell selinanell is offline
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I think that you have raised some good points; it is always a good idea to be familiar with the system that exerts such a large presence in your life. I know that my first line of defense is in consulting prison policy; it becomes very difficult for the prison to defend actions of staff that are in opposition with their own policy.
Lily lara
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Old 04-13-2015, 09:45 AM
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Again, I'm posting on an old thread today. There's some validity to what these people are doing, but only to a point. There are some criminals I dont want let out regardless of how much they have been rehabilitated. The manson family comes to mind, and ANYONE who has EVER murdered a child. Sorry, but there are some things that there is simply no coming back from.

Also, it's my firm belief that some people are just plain evil. I believe some were simply born that way. And why not? If society insists we can be born with attitudes or behaviors steering us towards one preference or another, then why can't some be born evil?
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