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Archbishop: ‘Perfect’ justice comes from love of God, brethren

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Including victims of crime in the conversation within the justice system, the education and rehabilitation of offenders, and the need for increased leadership and volunteers when budget cuts to the system have been implemented were all stressed during an Aug. 3-4 symposium at Loyola Marymount University.About 600, including chaplains across California, religious men and women, parishioners and members of non-profits involved in restorative justice work attended “Responsibility, Rehabilitation and Restoration: A Symposium on Crime, Punishment and the Common Good in California,” sponsored by the California Catholic Conference.The event was an effort to examine the state’s criminal justice system, including the treatment of victims and the impact of crime on communities, and learn from the different models of restorative justice developed statewide.“Punishment should defend the public order and restore harmony in the social relationships disrupted by the criminal act,” Archbishop José Gomez told the assembly during the opening ceremony at LMU’s Sacred Heart Chapel, where victims were remembered in worship and prayer.“But our punishments must also be ‘medicinal,’” he added. “Our punishments must contribute to the moral correction and education of offenders and their ‘re-insertion’ into society.“Justice and mercy are two different realities only for the human person. For us ‘just’ means ‘what is due to the other,’ while ‘merciful’ is what is given out of kindness. One seems to exclude the other, yet for God there is no just action that is not also an act of mercy and pardon. And at the same time, there is no merciful action that is not perfectly just.”Acknowledging that God’s logic does not always correspond with “people’s logic,” Archbishop Gomez asserted that “our justice will be all the more perfect the more motivated it is by love for God and for our brethren.”Besides Archbishop Gomez, present at the opening ceremony were Monterey Bishop Richard Garcia (chair of the CCC’s restorative justice board), Sacramento Bishop Jaime Soto and Stockton Bishop Stephen Blaire.The event’s keynote speaker, Superior Court Judge Gail Brewster Bereola of Alameda County, described restorative justice as a “philosophy or theory of justice based on old practices” started 40 years ago in Australia, New Zealand, some South American countries and Canada.She said restorative justice starts by setting a “different paradigm in our thinking,” where offenders should “hold themselves accountable without being condemned” and where the values of honesty and respect prevail.“Restorative justice is getting to the roots of why crime is committed, who was harmed, and where all the affected collectively heal the harm,” she said. “It is a way of responding relationally to schools, to the community and to the justice system. In the process, victims learn from offenders and vice-versa, giving a sense of closure.”The judge noted that a restorative justice system has proved more cost-effective than the current retributive system. In the latter, she said, the rehabilitative component is minimal, meaning “offenders will never realize their accountability and remain oblivious to their crime.”Bishop Garcia told The Tidings that due to governmental budget cuts, it is crucial for all those involved in restorative justice to find alternative ways to support the incarcerated.“We need more volunteers to make a difference by teaching classes inside prisons and developing activities that were previously done by paid teachers or probation staff, and also in spreading the word to others in their parishes and communities” he said. “With fewer guards there is less time offered to prisoners to get involved in educational and rehabilitative activities, which should be an option to them.”The bishop said lobbying efforts have been made to eliminate the three-strike law, “which keeps more people in detention institutions at a moment when there should be less due to budget constraints.”He encouraged more measures to prevent crime, including education and formation of families through programs such as Cursillos and others; development of indoor and outdoor activities for children and youth; and partnering with law enforcement agencies to offer safety and educational activities.Panelist Matthew Cate, secretary of the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, reiterated the need of volunteers in the different detention institutions due to the downsizing as a result of budget cuts.Chaplains and formerly incarcerated prisoners, on the other hand, asserted that more can be done about rehabilitation and restoration, even with the limited resources. In fact, Freddie Aguirre and Valerie Walkers, residents of Crossroads Inc., a six-month residential program for women released from prison, were somewhat dubious about statements regarding the cuts.“The rehabilitation part of the department’s name is kind of a joke in prison,” said Walkers, who was released eight months ago after spending 20 years in prison. “It is somewhat difficult to get involved in educational and rehabilitative programs in prison because there is very little information provided.”Aguirre, released three years ago after 23 years in prison, noted that she has learned that there is even more negligence in women prisons. “We are totally ostracized,” she said.If not for another inmate who took her by the hand through rehabilitation programs offered in prison, Aguirre said it would have taken her even more years to receive treatment.Both women claimed that although prison staff was increased, “most of the time we were locked in our rooms, so they were basically doing nothing. Then we were told there were fewer teachers and fewer opportunities to enroll in programs.”They said they met many three-strikers serving life terms for minor crimes, who went untreated. “There are many mental issues that stem from life sentences and nobody is helping,” they said, adding they would have liked hearing symposium panelists talk of measures that could be taken immediately to address these challenges.Sister of St. Joseph Rose Marie Redding, who has volunteered for more than two decades at Orange County Juvenile Hall, said she was somewhat disappointed that speakers were not “bringing ideas of effective change.” She said the three-strikes law is “causing a lot of problems to a lot of people,” using resources that could better be used in rehabilitation.“There is a real void in the system,” said Deacon Paulino Juarez-Ramirez, chaplain at L.A.’s Men’s Central Jail. “Sheriffs and people who make decisions should have been among the panelists.”“They are still incarcerating too many people,” said Ellen Barry, executive director of Insight Prison Project, a nonprofit that offers rehabilitation at San Quentin State Prison. “Too much money is used in building prisons instead of educating prisoners and having underpaid teachers. This is a very punitive state.” For more information about restorative justice efforts, call the archdiocesan Office of Restorative Justice, (213) 438-4820 or visit California Catholic Conference web site, www.cacatholic.org.{gallery width=100 height=100}gallery/2012/0817/restorative/{/gallery}

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