Thursday, January 23, 2020

Untapped evangelical support for improved prison conditions

When one closely examines the politics of bipartisan justice reforms, support on the Republican side comes from four discrete sources: 1) libertarians (particularly from the Ron-Paul wing of the party), 2) Second Amendment advocates (many of whom enthusiastically support the rest of the Bill of Rights), 3) office-holders worried about budgets (read: fiscal conservatives), and 4) religious conservatives, or at least a faction of them.

This article from Christianity Today examines opinion data from evangelical conservatives and determines that the evangelical base is more supportive of justice reform than both their leadership and average Americans, especially on prison conditions.

Notably, prison-conditions issues have been hard to move forward in Texas because the main advocates for it at the Legislature have been formerly incarcerated folks and prisoners' families. Isolated without a broader coalition, their bills mostly have been stymied. This news tells us there's untapped evangelical support along that vector from which messengers could perhaps be drafted whom Texas' GOP-led Legislature would find more convincing. It would be quite an organizing task, but it also might move the needle.

When Emmett Solomon led the Restorative Justice Ministries Network, he was able to mobilize evangelical support through his vast connections with local church-based prison ministries. But after Emmett passed away a few years ago, no organizers of his caliber have stepped up to fill the void.

While evangelical Christians are more likely than average Americans to support prison reform, reported Christianity Today, they are also less likely to change their vote based on justice topics. My guess is that's because other Culture War issues like abortion, traditional marriage, etc., more fervently animate their zeal on election day. But that doesn't mean evangelical Christians can't be tapped as messengers to support legislation. Judging from this data, many would be pleased to help.


Anonymous said...

If criminals would just stop committing crimes, my guess is there would be support for prison reform from many constituencies. But I'm afraid that's not likely to happen in my lifetime.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

As the Apostle Paul reminded us, all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.

Anonymous said...

When I've been in the state capital meeting legislators about prison reform, most of my fellow concerned citizens have been from an interfaith public action group. It's a wide range of members.

Responding to anonymous, who deserves a reasoned response, prison reform is one ingredient in having criminals stop committing crimes. Take just one example, making college courses available. Bard College has a program for prisoners and has kept track of them post-release. I forget the exact number but more than 95% have stayed out. Even when you account for the fact that people with self discipline were already more likely to go straight, that's still impressive. Time to reinstate Pell grants.

The current situation is not what anyone would plan if public safety were the goal. At one Federal prison camp, the only vocational or educational program had two openings for three hundred inmates. I don't feel safer.

We could have more programs like one in Washington State where there's a welding program with union reps attached so that, straight out of the gate, the released prisoner has a certificate proving competency and a union card. They can walk straight into work.