Thursday, January 20, 2005

The Lord despiseth not his prisoners

For the Lord heareth the poor and despiseth not his prisoners.
Psalm 69:33

Huntsville, Texas is home to the state's main prison facility. So it's fitting that this article appeared in the Huntsville Item yesterday about Restorative Justice Ministries, Texas' largest prison ministries network.
"The old 'tough, Texas Justice,' it doesn't work," said Bill Kleiber, administrative assistant for Restorative Justice Ministries. "We favor smart justice. What we do here is we help victims of crime, ex-offenders, offenders and corrections officers, pretty much anyone who is touched by incarceration."
That's a bold message to take into a small town filled with prison guards, and an especially important messenger. Not a lot of folks know about the fine, mostly low-key work of Restorative Justice Ministries, but this article gives a taste:
Restorative Justice Ministries was started 12 years ago by its current director, Emmett Solomon.

"I've been called to this ministry my whole life," said Solomon, former head chaplain for the state's prison system. "We initially were advocating prison ministry. Now we are not so much about prison ministry as we are about after-care ministry."

Emmett feels incarceration is being overused in Texas and it is having detrimental results for both families and society.

"Every time that a prisoner gets locked up a family goes into crisis," Solomon said. "As a result, we are unraveling the fabric of our society at the lowest levels, and we are creating what could be a permanent underclass.

Our system is aiding in that process."
Emmett's a conservative religious Republican, and there are a lot of issues on which he and I don't see eye to eye. But his concern for "family values" is more than a campaign slogan, and as a prison chaplain, he's witnessed the real impact of incarceration on families. He deserves a lot of credit for following his heart on these issues, even when it led him to question the tough on crime orthodoxy.

Emmett's aide, Bill Kleiber, is worried about how prison degrades inmates' ability to exercise personal responsibility. He sees RJM as a vehicle for correcting that.
"We are mentally damaged when we come out of prison. We are not allowed to think. We are not allowed to make any kind of decisions. The only decision I got to make was maybe what book I was going to read. Then they dump us out here with no preparation and say, 'Here's the free world, man! Here's some money,' and I don't even know how to handle this money," he said. "A lot of people ask us, 'Why are you wasting your time with those guys? They're only gonna go back in a couple of months.' But given half a chance, over 70 percent of ex-offenders never go back to prison."
RJM connects hundreds of church-based prison ministries statewide. Very few lay people have the first-hand knowledge of incarceration issues in Texas that the religious prison ministries do. I hope, as the 79th Legislature progresses, our elected leaders will look to them for solutions to the overincarceration question.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Let us all remember who started this mayheim, George W. Bush when he was Governor. He should have been punished for his many DWI's and drug use, but he had a rich father who paid his way out of every thing he did wrong. I am sorry, but you just don't stop drinking without help, professional help and for him to think he is kidding us, no way!!