Responding to a report identifying mass incarceration as “the most critical social issue of our time,” synod on Monday approved a series of recommendations from the Commission on Christian Action calling for education, advocacy, and direct action related to prison reform and mandatory sentencing reform.
The commission’s lengthy report addressed the impact of mass incarceration on fatherlessness, deportation of immigrants, economics, and communities of color. “The tentacles of mass incarceration reach deep,” said Patricia Sealy, corresponding delegate from the Commission on Christian Action. “Conversations about mass incarceration inevitably lead to discussions of race.”
In all, delegates approved eight recommendations that call for the Christian Action Commission and several affiliated RCA groups and institutions to increase awareness about the issue while also joining with other denominations and ecumenical bodies that have taken stands in opposition to mass incarceration.
As noted in the Christian Action report, African Americans comprise 39.4 percent of the prison population but only 13.6 percent of the general population; African Americans are incarcerated at six times the rate of whites.
Beyond the economic impact of incarceration on families, communities, and state and federal budgets, the report cited some of the complications caused by the privatization of prisons. “The goal of private prisons is to keep the cells filled–more prisoners equals more money,” the report states.
The report outlined several reasons why it’s important for the church to respond, beginning with the “issue of justice–an issue of human rights, public health, and racial and ethnic disparity. It’s important because it’s an economic issue that holds one class of people in a posture of ‘less than’ and puts an immoral strain on the economics of this nation; it’s an issue of social management of human lives, and above all it’s an issue of compassion, forgiveness, and honoring the imago Dei in all of God’s human creation. It’s an issue of God’s love for all men and women, even the least among us.”
Sealy echoed the commission’s conclusion that the issues of mass incarceration have a direct correlation to the RCA’s fifteen-year strategies outlined in Transformed and Transforming. “Jesus took the side of the oppressed,” Sealy said. “He ate with sinners, and he liberated those who were oppressed. The gospel demands that the church be involved.”