Communities of faith are speaking out against private prisons.
Reverend Eleanor McLaughlin of St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, Hopkinton NH, gave an extraordinary sermon on June 24:
“Therefore commit to find it in our hearts and minds to protect these children of God from being reduced to a means of profit for the prison industrial system.”
The statement below, drafted by the NH Episcopal Diocese, was sent to the Executive Council, the Governor, and the Editors of the Concord Monitor, the Valley News, the Manchester Union and the Keene Sentinel.
The prison concerns committee of the Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire is unanimously opposed to privatizing our state prisons. Our research has shown us that private corporations will not fill the needs of our inmates or our general population. As Christians we believe all people are created in God’s image and are equally loved by God. In our baptismal vows we promise to “seek and serve Christ in all persons” and “respect the dignity of every human being”. As part of respecting dignity justice should not be for sale to the lowest bidder.
There is a fundamental difference between making prisons profitable and rehabilitating prisoners. Rehabilitation requires education and skills training to prepare for reintegration into our communities. That is not free. Prisons that are safe for inmates, for staff and for the public require well-trained and fairly compensated staff. That is not free. Nor are counseling or medical care free. Profitability, on the other hand, requires spending the least possible amount each step of the way and paying close attention to the bottom line so that shareholders will be well compensated. It is only We the People represented by our Government who, with the purpose of the Common Good, can construct a penal system committed to justice, public safety and the rehabilitation of those citizens who require that re-formation.
New Hampshire will be judged by how we treat the least powerful among us: children, the poor, the imprisoned, women, the homeless, the jobless, the immigrants. We want all of us to have opportunities for growth and for amendment of life so that together we may create a better society.
United Church of Christ, New Hampshire Conference
“This resolution calls upon the New Hampshire Conference of the United Church of Christ to speak publicly and prophetically about the fundamental conflict between profit-making from incarceration and the objective of rehabilitation; it further calls upon the Conference and individual church members and congregations to oppose the privatization and “profitization” of New Hampshire’s prisons and to convey this stance to the NH Governor and Executive Councilors and other elected officials as appropriate.” Read more here.
National Communities of Faith are also speaking out:
USA Presbyterian Church
“Since the goal of for-profit private prisons is earning a profit for their shareholders, there is a basic and fundamental conflict with the concept of rehabilitation as the ultimate goal of the prison system. We believe that this is a glaring and significant flaw in our justice system and that for-profit private prisons should be abolished.”
United Church of Christ, Southwest Conference
“WHEREAS, there is a fundamental conflict between the goal of for‐profit private prisons of earning profit for their shareholders and the ultimate goal of rehabilitation of our prison system; therefore, be it resolved that the 2012 Annual Meeting of the Southwest Conference United church of Christ calls for the abolition of for‐profit private prisons.”
U.S. Catholic Bishops
“We bishops question whether private, for-profit corporations can effectively run prisons. The profit motive may lead to reduced efforts to change behaviors, treat substance abuse, and offer skills necessary for reintegration into the community.” Responsibility, Rehabilitation, and Restoration: A Catholic Perspective on Crime and Criminal Justice, November 2000.
Pastoral statement, Catholic Bishops of the South
“To deprive other persons of their freedom, to restrict them from contact with other human beings, to use force against them up to and including deadly force, are the most serious of acts. To delegate such acts to institutions whose success depends on the amount of profit they generate is to invite abuse and to abdicate our responsibility to care for our sisters and brothers.”
The United Methodist Church has divested its pension funds from private prisons, and called on others to do the same. Bill Mefford of the General Board explains:
“Dispensing justice not as a public trust, but rather as an item for sale in the marketplace has dramatically accelerated the incarceration of mass numbers of people…. Profiting from stock in CCA and GEO Group is a betrayal of all that we stand for and believe in as United Methodists and followers of Jesus.”
Resolved, That the Episcopal Church call for a moratorium on further prison construction and the use of private prisons, except where a local diocese discerns the need to do otherwise for pastoral reasons, and call for appropriate changes in the laws requiring mandatory sentencing for nonviolent and property crimes.