Ravi Zacharias, Russell Moore, Samuel Rodriguez and Joni Eareckson Tada added their names to the “Justice Declaration” along with nearly 100 other Christian leaders. The Declaration provides a biblical framework for the church to respond to the growing incarceration crisis the U.S. faces and calls on the government to facilitate reform.
“We have a criminal justice system that doesn’t work and ought to be fixed,” ERLC President Russell Moore stated at the press conference on June 20, 2017 in Washington, D.C. Furthermore, Moore believes evangelical Christians should “be the first to say so.”
Prison Fellowship CEO James Ackerman invites Christians across the country to sign the Declaration. Articulating the dire need for criminal justice reform, Ackerman says, “The United States locks up more people than any other nation. In fact, the United States represents a mere 5 percent of the world’s population, but we house 25 percent of the world’s incarcerated population,” the Christian Post reports.
The Declaration may have been spurred by Attorney Gen. Jeff Sessions’ memorandum on criminal sentencing released in May. The memo essentially reverses a policy put in place by the Obama administration to steer prosecutors away from charging offenders who had not committed violent crimes with unfair minimum sentences. Republicans and Democrats alike voiced opposition to Sessions’ memo. Two conservative Republican senators, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Mike Lee of Utah, teamed up with Democrat senators, Dick Durbin of Illinois and Cory Booker of New Jersey, to pen a letter expressing their concern over the memo. They said the sentencing guidelines put forth in the memo could “ruin families and have a corrosive effect on communities, and are not likely to reduce recidivism.”
Sessions defended his memo in an Op-Ed piece in the Washington Post. Referring to a goal to “make America safe again,” Sessions claims the Obama-era policy caused the country to lose momentum on an aggressive violent crime reduction trajectory it had been on for about 30 years.
The faith leaders at the press conference also gave their opinions on Sessions’ memo. Ackerman said, “We believe it removes from the judge the ability to do her or his job, which is to judge and consider the person in front of them—whether the person has repented for what they have done or whether they have taken steps to put themselves on the right path—and give them a sentence that is proportionate that the judge believes will…lead that person to behavior that is restorative and positive for the community.”
Christians leaders present at the press conference called for reforms at the state and federal level to give offenders in prison treatment for addictions or problems that could lead to recidivism. Additionally, the leaders called for greater efforts to help inmates gain the skills to be successful after they are released. Finally, they called on the church to minister to prisoners and their families who are also suffering from the incarceration.