Hundreds of Christian leaders are supporting prison reform legislation working its way through Congress.
The House Judiciary Committee will soon hear testimony on the Prison Reform and Redemption Act of 2017 (H.R. 3356). The legislation gives eligible prisoners time credits and eligibility to complete their sentences under community supervision if they complete certain programs. The bill’s proponents believe it will reduce the rate of ex-cons who go back to prison, which sits at about 66 percent in the U.S.
The bipartisan bill introduced by Reps. Doug Collins, R-Ga., and Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., calls on federal prison wardens to partner with nonprofits and private organizations—including faith-based and community groups—to provide the required programming, such as vocational training, religious mentorship and even employment opportunities.
The letter was signed by prominent evangelical figures such as Franklin Graham, the president of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, and Paula White, President Donald Trump’s spiritual adviser and a Florida pastor. Other signatories include Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr., Family Research Council President Tony Perkins, Faith & Freedom Coalition President Ralph Reed and Maryland pastor Bishop Harry Jackson.
Other initiatives in the legislation include instruction on parenting skills and building family relationships, religious instruction and mentorship, life and job skills training, work programs, education, and drug rehabilitation.
It would direct the attorney general to develop an assessment tool to identify the unique risks and needs prisoners face after sentencing. This tool would need to be scientifically sound and statistically valid, incorporating both static factors such as criminal history, and dynamic factors such as anti-social impulses and values.
There is opposition to the plan, The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, the ACLU and 64 other groups are urging lawmakers to reject the bill. They want the legislation to include sentencing reform. Their letter told lawmakers “without changes to sentencing laws that eliminate mandatory minimums, restore judicial discretion, reduce the national prison population, and mitigate disparate impacts on communities of color, H.R. 3356 alone will have little impact.”
The opposition letter resulted in hearings on H.R. 3356 to be delayed until the week of May 7.
Craig DeRoche, Prison Fellowship’s senior vice president of advocacy and public policy, said his organization and “the hundreds of thousands of prisoners and families we serve in our programs” are disappointed by the delay.
“Delaying, or even killing, these important reforms disregards the hope, dignity, value and potential of the people incarcerated today and will only serve the practical outcome of making America less safe by continuing the current recidivism rate.”
Prison Fellowship sent a letter to Congressional leaders earlier in the week supporting the bill. Also signing that missive was the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, Heritage Action, the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, the Faith & Freedom Coalition and the National Association of Evangelicals.
“The revolving door of criminal justice is devastating to families and depresses economic activity in many communities. We owe it to the communities most affected by crime and incarceration to ensure that federal prisoners have the greatest possibility for rehabilitation while in prison and success upon release,” the letter reads.
Texas and Georgia, in response to public safety and spending concerns at the state level, have already proven that prison reform can reduce recidivism, help prisoners succeed after their release as law-abiding members of their community, and even save taxpayers money.
The federal prison system currently houses more than 180,000 individuals. Each year, about 40,000 of those individuals are released back into their communities, and within three years, about half of them are re-arrested.