Evangelical Christian leaders are spearheading a campaign for criminal justice reform, calling for equitable punishment, alternatives to incarceration and a different take on the “tough on crime” language of the Trump administration.
“Our country’s overreliance on incarceration fails to make us safer or to restore people and communities who have been harmed,” said James Ackerman, CEO of Prison Fellowship Ministries, at a Tuesday (June 20) news conference at the National Press Club.
Joined by black, white and Hispanic officials of evangelical organizations, he introduced the “Justice Declaration” that has been signed by close to 100 religious leaders from a wide range of Christian denominations.
“The Church has both the unique ability and unparalleled capacity to confront the staggering crisis of crime and incarceration in America,” the declaration reads, “and to respond with restorative solutions for communities, victims, and individuals responsible for crime.”
The leaders later presented their declaration to Republican leaders, such as House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, in hopes of gaining bipartisan support for changes in federal law.
In a May memorandum to federal prosecutors, Attorney General Jeff Sessions established a stricter policy on charges and sentencing, saying they “should charge and pursue the most serious readily provable offense,” and consider using mandatory minimum sentences.
Ackerman said Prison Fellowship supports sentencing guidelines but thinks mandatory sentences are “a big mistake.”
He was joined at the news conference by leaders with testimonies of how churches helped formerly incarcerated people rehabilitate themselves and become productive citizens.