Mission Committee 2015 Topic: Mass Incarceration

For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ ? Matthew 25:35-36

Mass incarceration: the words sound ominous but what do they mean? What does mass incarceration have to do with police tactics in Ferguson, New York City and other areas around the country? What are we as Christians called to do?

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” ? Martin Luther King Jr.

20% of Americans – 1 person in 5 has a criminal record. 2,200,000 are in prison. 688,000 are released each year. The United States imprisons more people in total that any other country and is second in prisoners per capita. The prison population grew 343% between 1965 and 2000. The cost is staggering. In dollars, prisons cost taxpayers $49,000,000,000 (in 1999). The cost in human lives is unimaginable unless you are one of the 65,000,000 Americans with a criminal record. Around 47% of crimes were non violent. If you are poor, if you are a person of color, if you live in a densely populated urban environment, you are far more likely to experience prison. More than 60% of the people now in prison are racial and ethnic minorities. Over their lifetime, 1 in 3 black men will be imprisoned compared to 1 in 17 white men; 1 in 18 black women compared to 1 in 56 white women.

“If the misery of the poor be caused not by the laws of nature, but by our institutions, great is our sin.” ? Charles Darwin, Voyage of the Beagle

The American Bar Association Journal in an article posted June 1, 2013 stated: “Some estimates speculate that today’s ex-offenders could face up to 50,000 legally mandated collateral consequences, including restrictions on housing, employment, public benefits and immigration.” Voting rights needs to be added to their list.

Throughout 2015, the Mission Committee will be presenting programs on:

  • why so many Americans are in prison
  • why the prison population is predominately minority
  • what prison conditions are like
  • how ex-offenders are reintroduced to society

There will be speakers, book and movie discussions and opportunities for you to work to correct injustices if you are moved to do so. The Mission Committee is still planning the program. Save the dates February 22, March 8 and March 15.

We welcome your suggestions for specific topics, speakers, movies or books. Our opening speaker on February 22 at 2 pm is Marilyn Kendrix, an expert on incarceration and the Associate Pastor for Faith Formation at our neighbor, The Church of the Redeemer (see separate announcement for more details). – By Art Hunt