WASHINGTON, D.C. — More than 720 faith leaders have signed a letter to Congress urging passage of the Smarter Sentencing Act to reduce mass incarceration.
The federal prison system has grown more than 500% over the past 30 years, pointed out Bill Mefford, director of Civil & Human Rights at the United Methodist General Board of Church & Society (GBCS). He said 50% of those in federal prison now are incarcerated for low-level, nonviolent drug offenses,
“The federal Bureau of Prisons is more than 40% over capacity and the overcrowding is dangerous to both those incarcerated and guards alike,” Mefford said.
A national conversation has begun to address the nationwide incarceration crisis, the letter states. “Change in state sentencing policy has resulted,” it emphasizes. “In the last decade, 17 states around the country reduced their incarceration rates and saw continued declines in crime rates. It is now time for Congress to act.
Diversity of faith beliefs
Faith leaders such as United Methodists Susan Henry-Crowe, GBCS chief executive, and Bishop Sally Dyck of the Northern Illinois Conference have signed the letter which states that “the criminal-justice system should treat people, regardless of their offense, justly and humanely.”
Other clergy and faith leaders representing a diversity of beliefs have signed the letter supporting the Smarter Sentencing Act (S. 1410/H.R. 3382). They include the Rev. Dr. A. Roy Medley, general secretary for American Baptist Churches USA; Sr. Simone Campbell, executive director for Network, a National Catholic Social Justice Lobby; the Rev. Peter Morales, president of the Unitarian Universalist Assn.; the Rev. Gabriel Salguero, president of the National Latino Evangelical Coalition; the Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, director of the Presbyterian Church, USA, Office of public Witness; and Jim Winkler, president of the National Council of Churches, USA.
“The federal prison system has dramatically increased and this has come largely due to the doubling of mandatory-minimum sentences in the past 20 years,” Mefford explained. He said the Smarter Sentencing Act would cut in half mandatory-minimum sentences for low-level, nonviolent drug offenses.
Over the past 30 years government spending on federal prisons has increased 1,100%, according to Mefford. He estimated that the Smarter Sentencing Act will likely save over $3 billion over the next 10 years.
Jesus among incarcerated
“As followers of Jesus we actually find Jesus among those incarcerated,” Mefford said. “So our own liberation and transformation is found as we deepen our relationships among those impacted by the criminal-justice system, and then advocate for measures like the Smarter Sentencing Act.”
Mefford said he prays that clergy, will sign the letter today and share it around widely. “Let the movement grow,” he urged. “If you are a lay person like me, don't stop until your pastor signs and continues to share this widely.”
The clergy and faith leaders letter can be signed at Support Smarter Sentencing Act.