Legislation to help former inmates draws Catholic praise
In a letter to national lawmakers, Catholic leaders applauded the Second Chance Act as an enhancement of public safety and human dignity, and asked for further support in reauthorizing the legislation in Congress.
“This legislation is an important step in addressing some of the many issues facing the more than 650,000 men, women and juveniles who re-enter society each year from federal and state prisons, and local jails and detention centers every day,” said a letter dated March 4.
The letter was signed by Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami, who heads the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, as well as Fr. Larry Snyder, president of Catholic Charities, USA.
It was addressed to the chairs and ranking members of the U.S. House and Senate Judiciary Committees.
Signed into law by President George W. Bush in 2008, the Second Chance Act helps to ensure that the transition from incarceration in prison or jail into the community is safe and successful.
In the letter, the clergymen urged lawmakers to support the Second Chance Act and highlighted how Catholic tradition supports the right to develop and enforce laws which protect society and advance the common good.
Our faith, they observed, teaches us that “both victims and offenders have a God-given dignity that calls for justice, not vengeance.”
“Just as God never abandons us, so too we must be in covenant with one another,” they said, quoting the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ 2000 pastoral statement, “Responsibility, Rehabilitation, and Restoration: A Catholic Perspective on Crime and Criminal Justice.”
“We are all sinners, and our response to sin and failure should not be abandonment and despair, but rather justice, contrition, reparation, and return or re-integration of all into the community,” the document stated.
Drawing attention to the many challenges that persons released from incarceration often face, including “finding housing and stable employment, high rates of substance abuse, physical and mental health challenges and social isolation,” Archbishop Wenski and Fr. Snyder explained that without support, these individuals are more likely to re-offend, which causes harm and drives up “our nation's prison costs.”
“The Second Chance Act,” they affirmed, “supports much needed programs in government agencies and nonprofit organizations.”
And these organizations, they continued, “provide employment assistance, substance abuse treatment, housing, family programming, mentoring, victim support and other services to individuals returning to the community from prison or jail.”
Listing various solutions proposed by the act for problems re-entering into society, Archbishop Wenski and Fr. Snyder highlighted grants offered by the legislation to nonprofit organizations in order to monitor adults and provide transitional assistance for re-integration.
Another positive means which is helping to reduce recidivism, they noted, is the act’s provision of separate “planning and implementation grants” in order to ensure that projects are well developed and researched.
Identifying various programs and resources for re-entry into society through a “federal taskforce” has been another means of developing better collaboration and eliminating some of the challenges offenders face, the signatories observed, going on to list several other positive solutions.
Recalling the words of Pope Francis that “God is in everyone’s life. Even if the life of a person has been a disaster, even if it is destroyed by vices, drugs or anything else – God is in this person’s life,” the clergymen echoed his sentiments, and urged Congress to pass the legislation.
“We join the pope by advocating for those who are leaving incarceration,” they expressed, adding that the legislation will “enhance public safety by providing the necessary resources to address prisoner reentry and recidivism.”
The act will not only help society to be safer, they explained, but will also “promote human dignity by improving the quality of life in communities across the country.”
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