RESOLVED, That this 142nd Annual Convention of the Episcopal Diocese of Newark encourage all congregations and other faith communities of the Diocese to commit to studying one of the most pressing social justice issues of our time, “mass incarceration,” and, be it further
RESOLVED, That congregations and other faith communities consider using the New York Times bestseller, “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Color Blindness” by Michelle Alexander as a common text that invites the people of the Diocese into engagement on this topic and report their findings to Namaste before the 143rd Convention.
Submitted by: The Rev. Canon Dr. Sandye A. Wilson, St. Andrew & Holy Communion, South Orange and Laura A. Russell, Esq., All Saints, Hoboken, The Chair and Vice Chair of the Deputation of General Convention
Comprehensive criminal justice reform is a complex subject with many components at the federal, state, and local levels of government that intersect with the ministry and advocacy of The Episcopal Church in its focus to respond to human need by loving service; to seek to transform unjust structures of society, to challenge violence of every kind, and to pursue peace and reconciliation (part of the Five Marks of Mission of The Episcopal Church).
Criminal justice reform has long been advocated for by this Church. At the 2015 General Convention, there was a call to recommit to studying criminal justice reform and advocating for change. There was also a recommendation to use The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Color Blindness as a study guide to assist congregations to learn about mass incarceration and its effects (newjimcrow.com).
Legal scholar Michelle Alexander’s book, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in an Age of Colorblindness”, published in 2010, “presents the disturbing realities of mass incarceration in the United States and its damaging effects on both the families of the incarcerated and on society as a whole. The United States currently has approximately 2.3 million individuals in prison, up from fewer than 350,000 in 1972, more than half of whom are in jail for non-violent crimes. Proportionately, the United States has the most individuals in the world. With less than 5 percent of the global population, the United States holds almost 25 percent of the world’s prisoners.” [Religion & Politics article, "The New Jim Crow: Churches Respond to Mass Incarceration," by Alfredo Garcia, August 13, 2013].
The effects of mass incarceration are seen frequently. Parolees encounter barriers to finding employment and housing upon release from incarceration and are often required by court order to obtain drug testing at specified facilities for which they must pay out of their own funds. Many parole revocations that land formerly incarcerated persons back in incarceration are due to their inability to meet the financial terms of their parole, such as paying for drug testing, when they have also been unable to find employment. Some recidivism is due to being poor, rather than to repeating the offenses that caused the parolee’s original incarceration. Two sociology professors — Christopher Uggen of the University of Minnesota and Jeff Manza of New York University — published the book, Locked Out: Felon Disenfranchisement and American Democracy in 2006, in which the authors found that approximately 1 of 40 voting-age Americans can’t vote due to a felony conviction. The numbers in states vary, because each state has different voting prohibition rules. For example, their most recent updated figures as of December 2010 show 5.85 million disenfranchised nationally. These are but a few of the effects of incarceration.
Mass incarceration is one of the most pressing issues we face. We should educate ourselves on why it happens, who is happening to, and what can be done to make the criminal justice system better.