By Sue Allen
JACKSON – There is renewed hope that progress in the area of criminal justice reform will be made during this legislative session. Governor Phil Bryant’s stated commitment to reform and signs of bipartisan support for some bills are strong indicators that important bills dealing with various aspects of reform may pass and be signed into law.
The Faith In Action Team (FIAT) and Catholic Charities felt this would be a good time to focus Catholic Day at the Capitol on the human and societal costs of the current system and the complexities involved in bringing about reform as well as the ways people can support the effort.
Catholic Day at the Capitol is set for Wednesday, Feb. 27, from 9 a.m. until 3 p.m. The day includes Mass, lunch and a rally at the capitol steps. “Experience tells us that enhancing and enforcing penalties often fails to resolve social problems, nor do they result in reducing the crime rate. Moreover, this method can create serious problems for the community, such as overcrowded prisons and people held without [valid] convictions…In many cases the offender fulfills his punishment objectively, serving his sentence but without changing inside or healing his wounded heart,” stated Pope Francis on May 30, 2014.
Keynote speaker John Koufos has his own powerful redemption story that led him from a career as a high-profile New Jersey defense attorney representing gang members and violent offenders, to his own imprisonment for a hit-and-run DUI which nearly killed a young man. His story continues into his newest role as the National Director of Reentry Initiatives and the Executive Director of the Safe Streets and Second Chances initiative. John’s personal experience of the challenges facing men and women trying to return to life in society after imprisonment lend an authenticity to his presentations.
John’s presentation will be followed by a panel of speakers, moderated by André de Gruy, Mississippi Public Defender and member of the Faith In Action Team. In addition to de Gruy himself, the panel will consist of Marvin Edwards, prison ministry coordinator and promoter of the re-entry program Getting Ahead While Getting Out; James Robertson, Director of Employability and Criminal Justice Reform from Empower Mississippi; Christina Dent, a columnist and community organizer whose passion is promoting the de-criminalization of drugs with discussion groups around the book, Chasing the Scream; and Amelia McGowan, Senior Attorney at the Mississippi Center for Justice.
The capstone speaker is Haley M. Brown, a prosecuting attorney in Oktibbeha County, who brings yet another perspective of restorative justice as a more humane and effective means of helping individuals and society recover from criminal behavior in ways that bring about both justice and true healing.
Not everyone can make the trip to Jackson to attend the Catholic Day at the Capitol, but everyone can pay attention to the many aspects of this vital issue. Everyone can be better informed about the Catholic teaching on Restorative Justice, which is rooted in Scripture. Those who cannot attend can find more information and resources through the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ “Responsibility, Rehabilitation, and Restoration: A Catholic Perspective on Crime and Criminal Justice;” “Criminal Justice-Restorative Justice,” both available on their website, usccb.org; or by visiting the Catholic Mobilizing Network (https://catholicsmobilizing.org/restorative-justice)
Those planning to attend should register online at the Catholic Charities Jackson website: https://catholiccharitiesjackson.org/events/catholic-day-at-the-capitol-2019/
(Sue Allen is the coordinator for Parish Social Justice Ministry for Catholic Charities of Jackson.)