By Eckstrom, Kevin
The Christian Century , Vol. 117, No. 34
The U.S. Catholic bishops have called for a host of reforms in the criminal-justice system, in which "putting more people in prison and, sadly, more people to death has not given Americans the security we seek."
Besides reiterating their opposition to the death penalty, the bishops at their annual fall meeting said criminals must not be warehoused in prisons with sentences that do not fit the crimes. "We are all sinners, and our response to sin should not be abandonment and despair, but rather justice, contrition, reparation and return or reintegration of all into the community," the bishops said.
The bishops estimated that 30 percent of inmates in federal prisons are Catholic, and they bemoaned the fact that Hispanics--one of the church's fastest-growing segments--make up 14 percent of the prison population, even though they are only 9 percent of the general population.
In adopting their statement "Responsibility, Rehabilitation and Restoration: A Catholic Perspective on Crime and Criminal Justice" on November 15, the bishops also spoke out against mandatory sentencing guidelines and argued that rehabilitation must be a key component of any prison sentence. "Punishment for its own sake is not a Christian response to crime," the statement said. "Punishment must have a purpose. It must be coupled with treatment and, when possible, restitution."
This was the first time the country's Catholic bishops have made a broad statement on the criminal-justice system, and the document was striking not in its treatment of crime but in its treatment of inmates. In the view of Archbishop Patrick Flores of San Antonio, the prison population may be the church's greatest mission field. "I can't think of any segment of society that needs our help more so than the incarcerated," Flores said.
In renewing their call for an end to capital punishment, the bishops called the policy unfair, ineffective and counter to the central message of the gospel. …