Mass incarceration is a term used to describe the expansion prison as an industry in response to legislation that resulted in mass arrests and convictions, predominantly in minority communities. Mass Incarceration in America looks like this: In the United States, 2.2 million people are currently in prison or jail. This is a 500% increase over the last 30 years. Roughly 70% of the imprisoned men and women in the U.S. are persons of color (black or latino). Although Black Americans make up only 12.7% of the U.S. population, they comprise 48.2% of adults in federal, state, or local prisons and jails.
Here in California, three strikes legislation and other laws resulted in massive numbers of people being locked up, a vast majority of them for non-violent offenses. Because of this, since the 1980’s there have been 22 prisons built. But only one California University campus. California spends an average of $62,300 a year on a prison inmate, while only spending $9,100 a year on a child in school.
What is a Christian perspective on Mass Incarceration in America? Where are our priorities? Proposition 47 allowed the balance of power to shift. Let me explain. What we have seen happen through Prop 47 is the shifting away from one way of doing policing that put people out of society, to one of engagement and redemptive value. I believe this relates strongly to our Christian faith. There is something redeemable in all of us. People need a second chance. Prop 47 simply gives people their second chance. Prop 47 also helped us by redirecting funds to education and rehabilitation which I believe is reflects Christian faith and values. As Christians we are able to look at a person, share the love of God with that person, educate them, empower them, and begin to show them who they are and can be.
Proposition 47 is restorative justice. It gives people a second chance in life. One of our Christian values that we take from Mathew 25 is Jesus saying to his disciples, “you have clothed me, you have gone to the prison, you have gotten me out of the prison…” The disciples asked “when did we do that?” and Jesus responded “when you have done it for the least…” We have work to do! We have work to do in rethinking, reimagining, and reconnecting with people to give individuals a way of living, and talking, and thinking that is new. The time is now. I believe there is a shift. Let’s welcome back the prisoner, make a way for them in community to live a redeemed life and have a christian perspective on mass incarceration in America.
Rev. Lesley Simmons; Assistant Pastor of South Sacramento Christian Center
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